Saturday 27 April 2024

Leo and Ralph

Leo and Ralph by Peter Carnavas (UQP), RRP $16.99 Junior Fiction ISBN 9-780702-266218

Reviewed by Susan Hancy

‘Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.’

Leo hates school. He has difficulty communicating with the other kids in Prep and he can’t make a friend. He feels the angst from his parents who are trying to encourage him with tips and he feels even worse when he realises that his younger sister attracts others with ease. He’s only comfortable when he’s thinking about space and the types of beings that might exist out there.

One day a white balloon floats into his backyard and he hears a crash outside his house. When he returns to his room, he finds a short shaggy creature with flappy ears, stubby horns and a nose like a bulgy mushroom. Mum’s wish for him to have a friend has finally come true!

Only Leo can see the creature, who he names Ralph, and they quickly become inseparable. Ralph has come to Earth in a soccer ball-shaped spacecraft from one of Jupiter’s moons and he’ll stay with Leo for as long as he needs him.

Initially Leo’s family is accepting of Ralph, understanding what he means to Leo. But Ralph is still with Leo four years later and Leo is yet to make a “real” friend. Too often Leo gets lost in his imaginary world with Ralph and a daydreaming episode lands him hospital with a broken arm and busted telescope. This is the catalyst for his financially struggling parents to move to the country. Leo is made to say goodbye to Ralph.

Their new home, in a remote town, hasn’t seen rain for years. Every day is sweltering hot, the only public pool is closed due to lack of funds, and the kids at Leo’s new school aren’t interested in him. Secretly, Leo had made a pact with Ralph that if he doesn’t have a friend within a week, Ralph will return. When the first week passes, Leo keeps his eye out for a soccer ball-shaped spacecraft and instead recovers the missing ball of a classmate, Gus. The ball is precious to Gus – it’s a reminder of his father who has been gone for two years.

Ralph returns to Leo’s side and Leo keeps Ralph’s presence hidden from his family. But with some encouragement from Ralph (which is Leo’s inner voice) and a challenge set by his teacher to raise funds to reopen the pool, Leo finds himself breaking through his own personal barriers and bringing happiness to everyone.

Packed full of space related metaphors and references, ‘Leo and Ralph’ is a tender story that has the reader rooting for both Leo and Gus and brings all the threads together for a satisfying ending. A small number of perfectly placed illustrations, drawn by the author, compliment the visual picture created by the words. Due to the length and language used, I’d recommend this book for confident readers in the target age range noted by the publisher as 7-8+ years, as well as for middle grade readers.

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