Leo the Late Bloomer


Written by Robert Kraus, Illustrated by Jose Aruego

Windmill Books, 1971

Leo couldn’t do anything right.

The plot in a nutshell:  A young tiger doesn’t progress as quickly as his friends and his father worries that he will never bloom, although his mother is certain he will, when the time is right.

Our month of dog books is over and we’re back to regular books for a while.

Don't feel bad, Leo...I couldn't build a snow sculpture of myself either.

Don’t feel bad, Leo…I couldn’t build a snow sculpture of myself either.

This is one of the books I remember reading to my kids when they were younger.  It’s a sweet story about managing the expectations people have for us and judging ourselves against others.  Leo has trouble with just about everything and his father can’t stop watching him, waiting for him to come into his own.  Leo’s mother, on the other hand, just knows that he has it in him to succeed and she’s willing to back off and let it happen on its own.

Author Robert Kraus started his career as a cartoonist and was definitely NOT a late bloomer himself, having sold his first cartoon at age 12.  He contributed cartoons and cover art to The New Yorker for several years before he wrote his first children’s book in 1954.  Together with the artistic friends he had made from The New Yorker, he created Windmill Books, the company that pioneered the idea of board and bathtub books.  Although he illustrated several of his own books, he turned the reins for this book over to Filipino artist Jose Aruego, whose vibrant colors and expressive faces move the story forward.

Kids will definitely focus on Leo, but I love the characters of Leo’s parents in this book.  Leo’s mother has the most important role in the life of any late bloomer – as the person who believes in them and loves them regardless of their ability.  I like that we don’t see any external judgment of Leo in the book – his friends don’t seem to be critical of him because he can’t do what they can and his father, although concerned, doesn’t seem to be giving Leo a hard time.  Mr. Kraus wrote a sequel to this book, Little Louie the Baby Bloomer, in which it’s Leo’s turn to be patient, with his younger brother.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that everyone finds their own way in their own time.


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