Octavia and Her Purple Ink Cloud

Judith Nasse

Delightful is the word for this picture book about Octavia Octopus. Children love it that Octavia, just like them as they acquire new skills, has to practice squirting her ink until she get it just the right purple color in order to escape a hungry shark.

Sisters Donna and Doreen Rathmell have collaborated not only to make a very readable book for children ages 3 – 8, but they also teach through story about color, camouflage, and life in the deep sea. Illustrator Connie McLennan adds wonderful perspective, great learning details, and a vivid visual sense of underwater life. Included at the end is a color activity page that teaches children to mix the primary colors. There are also wonderful facts about octopuses and other sea creatures. This is a must have book for classroom and home libraries.

An interesting sidenote is that I had a fun communication with the publisher about the plural of octopus. The general usage is "octopi", but the scientific journals favor "octopuses." So, for now we'll side with the scientists!
- Judith Nasse, Children's Book Reviewer

Books 4 Learning - March 2011

Octavia and Her Purple Ink Cloud  (ages 3-8) is beautifully illustrated by Connie McLennan.  The ocean floor and its inhabitants are vibrant and animated.   A peek into the real lives of some favorite sea creatures is exhibited in a natural, narrative manner.  Authors Donna and Doreen Rathmell have written a story that is playful, yet factual.  I love how so many inherent teaching opportunities are packed into this one book.

Horn Book Guide - Fall 2006

Paul Porcupine Fish, Sandy Seahorse, Freddy Flounder, and other sea creatures all demonstrate their defense mechanisms for escaping predators, but Octavia Octopus repeatedly squirts the wrong color ink (only purple provides a dark enough cloud cover). She finally gets it right when a hungry shark swims by…. Related facts and activities are appended.

Armchair Interviews - March 07

Octavia the octopus and her ocean dwelling friends have a favorite game they play about how to protect themselves from enemies. Each of Octavia's friends has a special trick that they perform perfectly every time.

The seahorse hangs onto seaweed and enemies can't see it. The turtle hides in grass. Octavia boasts that she can shoot purple ink, but every time she tries to prove it to her friends, something goes wrong and she ends up with a different color.

Then the real test comes--a shark is tracking Octavia. Will she be able to shoot purple ink when she needs to?

Octavia and Her Purple Ink Cloud is a wonderful book for children ages 4 to 8. It not only teaches different colors, but it also gives facts about how different ocean creatures protect themselves from predators. Both my two- and five-year-olds enjoyed the colorful pictures, and the older one was totally engrossed in the story. My preteen daughter enjoyed the additional facts about octopuses at the end of the book.

Armchair Interview says: Some simple crafts are included that will also help youngsters with colors.
- Laura V. Hilton

OSU Marine Science Visitors Center

Vibrantly colored and detailed illustrations add to the book's appeal, and unique back matter contains information about camouflage and protection, fun facts, and a painting activity.

Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database

In real life, an octopus possesses the ability to shoot out a cloud of purple-black ink in order to hide from its enemies.  However, in this delightful and entertaining tale, Octavia the Octopus never seems to get the color right.  She encounters other sea creatures that have interesting ways of disguising themselves.  The Porcupine Fish, swaying Seahorse and color-changing Freddy Flounder are just a few.  Each time she attempts to show them her camouflage trait, the cloud never comes out right.  She dispels yellow, orange, green, red, and blue ink in her attempts, but she never gives up.  She believes she can get it right with practice.  Finally, her persistence pays off when a cloud of dark, purple ink shields her from the view of a dangerous shark.  This fun story is educational without being didactic.  Listeners learn not to give up and that practicing a task is necessary in order to get better.  In addition, they are offered a plethora of information about exciting sea creatures.  Vibrantly colored and detailed illustrations add to the book’s appeal and unique end material contains information about camouflage and protection, fun facts, and a painting activity.  This “complete package” is a must in schools, homes, and libraries with young children.
- Nancy Garhan Attebury


This silly octopus can't get her colors straight. She means to shoot purple ink to practice her getaways; instead, she spurts all the other colors of the rainbow. Her finny friends have no trouble hiding or camouflaging themselves. Fortunately, she gets her act together in time to escape a shark. Yipes!

Like most titles from Arbordale, it's meant to be educational, hence the emphasis on learning colors and about sea life. The watercolors imitate the vivid hues of a coral reef, and end notes give additional information and creative exercises.

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine - September 2007

"Octavia Octopus lived alone in a small, secret cave in a colorful coral reef. She had many friends, so she was never lonely. She and her friends played a game called 'how to hide from a hungry creature.'"

Thus begins the adventures of Octavia Octopus, who can't seem to produce a purple ink cloud which could ultimately save her life from predators. Through the story, the reader learns the unusual defense mechanisms of various ocean-dwellers, from the flounder's ability to change colors and hide on the ocean floor to the seahorse's ability to hold onto a swaying plant as if he were a part of the plant itself.

Ultimately, Octavia does get to use her purple ink to protect herself from a nearby shark, and the story ends happily. But it is one of those stories that teaches children in spite of themselves. I always like it when I can find a child enjoying a book and taking in information at the same time.

The illustrations in Octavia and Her Purple Ink Cloud are really quite beautiful. They remind me of colorful ocean prints one might find for sale in an aquarium store. And as an added benefit for the homeschooler, the book includes a "For Creative Minds" section at the end of the story, which provides extra information about sea animal camouflage, octopus facts, and a craft project as well.

While not an essential book for a home library, this book would be a nice addition to a unit study or a gift for a budding marine biologist. A confident second-grade reader could handle the text without a problem, and younger ones would enjoy the story if read aloud.
- Kendra Fletcher

Cheryl - July 2008

Octavia the Octopus and her friends like to play a game–”how to hide from a hungry creature.” But the game is not just for fun; it’s a survival skill. Each of Octavia’s friends know how to hide from predators well, but Octavia finds herself unable to do it right; she squirts the wrong-colored ink. She tries over and over again, until finally, when threatened with real danger, she gets it right and is able to stay safe. Octavia and Her Purple Cloud combines story with information to help kids learn in a fun way.

The Rathmells often bring in good word choices, helping to create a strong sense of setting, such as “he swayed in the water like he was part of the plant.” I also liked Octavia’s delight in and enthusiasm for the other sea creatures’ skills; it helped make her likable. It’s emphasized many times that the various sea creatures will be kept safe, which may reassure young readers. The sea creatures each have familiar human names as well as their specific breed, which helps make them seem more personable. There is very little character building.

Information about octopi is seamlessly integrated into the story, allowing readers to learn without realizing they are. We learn that an octopus has eight arms, squirt purple ink clouds to hide from predators, and live in coral reefs–and we learn ways that many other sea creatures, including sea horses, porcupine fish, flounders, sea turtles, and more keep themselves safe from predators. I found the various creatures’ ways of hiding very interesting. It also helped that Octavia seemed so interested in watching the other creatures hide.

One thing that became tiresome and predictable, at least for me, was Octavia doing the same thing numerous times–getting the ink color wrong–and then having the same reaction “Oh no, I’d better practise.” This happened five times before she squirted the right color. Also, having a character sigh, moan, whine, etc. detracts from the focus of what they’re saying, especially if it happens repeatedly in a short span of text. I would have liked to see something else happen, to make it less predictable, or to happen at the most three times. It also felt slightly preachy to me, to be told that the character has to practice.

Tension is built up well when a hungry shark comes looking for food. All of the other creatures can successfully hide, but the reader isn’t sure whether Octavia will be able to, because of her past lack of success. The authors/illustrator also add to this tension by having the result come after two page turns.

I wanted another sentence or two about Octavia and her sea creature friends, after the shark left. since the story focused on them, it was weird (for me) to have the ending be just the shark leaving. I wanted to see some celebration. However, that’s a personal take. The ending is still clear (and happy).

McLennan greatly enhances the story with her beautiful illustrations. She uses a rich, bright palette with Octavia a bright orange, a lovely deep turquoise and blues for the sea, and many yellows, greens, and browns. The sea creatures are realistically depicted, but in a way that will appeal to children, with small smiles or facial expressions, in a way that’s not overdone. McLennan also brings a sense of texture on Octavia’s skin and various creatures.

Broad expanses of deep blue or turquoise sea help bring an openness to the illustrations. Octavia always stands out as the visual focus point, in part because of her bright color, and in part because of how well placed she is on the illustrations. Octavia often appears half off or partially off the page, and this also draws focus to her, and helps bring a lovely visual variation, as well as the feeling of almost being right there in the ocean with her. Often Octavia’s tentacles will point to the action or the creature she’s conversing with. The point of danger is underscored by the sea being white instead of blue or turquoise, and her limbs as well as the shark standing out much more.

Octavia And Her Purple Ink Cloud is an enjoyable book that helps you learn at the same time. Recommended.

The Reading Tub - December 2007

Summary: Octavia (an octopus) and her underwater friends have their own version of hide and seek. It's called "Hide from a hungry creature." Each animal demonstrates how it camouflages itself, and Octavia squirts ink ... in all kinds of colors. Try as she might, the ink is never purple. When the shark arrives, everyone is prepared. But what about Octavia? This picture book offers an underwater story that blends factual information and a tale with life lessons for kids.

Type of Reading: family reading, anytime reading, playtime reading, read aloud book, learning to read.

Recommended Age: read together: 3 to 8; read alone: 6 to 9.

Age of Child: Shared with a Kindergarten class, children ages 5 and 6.

Little Kid Reaction: The kids loved this story. They especially liked Octavia's rainbow of ink colors! Their teacher printed the drawing on the last page, and everyone had a chance to color their own picture.

Big Kid Reaction: There is so much you can do with this book. There is something to learn and enjoy for toddlers on up, and the facts and suggestions at the back have something for each learning stage, from colors to nature to science. We even liked how the other animals didn't make fun of Octavia because she didn't get it "just right."

Pros: This is a picture book that offers lots of learning in a simple story.

Cons: None.

Borrow or Buy: Borrow, at least. There are incredible learning opportunities wrapped in a great story. This has the potential to grow with your child, particularly if you start sharing it when they are toddlers/preschoolers.