Friday, April 18, 2014

Otter and Odder - Perfect Picture Book Friday Review #PPBF

     Maybe it's just me, but picture books seem to be getting larger and larger. I don't mean longer - because the opposite is true. The text is shorter but many of the physical books are actually a larger trim size. And this isn't always a great fit for laptime reading. Without extend-o arms, the lap sitter ends up getting bonked in the face at each page turn. 
     Luckily there are little gems, perfect for laptime. Oddly enough, the little gem I'm featuring isn't for the laptime group. While I think younger readers could enjoy this book, the text is more complex and Publisher's Weekly lists the intended age group as 6-10.

Title: Otter and Odder 
Author: James Howe
Illustrator: Chris Raschka
[link to profile on the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature]   
Publisher: Candlewick Press  
Intended Audience: 6-10
[this is a 40-page picture book]   
Themes: Love/Tolerance, Otters, Fish

     The river sparkled the day Otter found love. He was not looking for it (love, that is). He was looking for dinner.

Synopsis: When Otter falls in love with a fish he faces peer pressure to act like an otter and eat her.

Why I liked this book: The primitive child-like watercolor and pencil drawings on the cover made me grab this one off the shelf! It is imaginative and creative with just enough realism to ground and carry the story. Playful and silly with a muted texture that reflects the emotional flux of the storyline.       Then the lovely text spun it's magic on me. Never talking down to the audience, the story explores what it means to feel emotions that may not mesh with societal norms (the society being the river creatures) and the tension to follow one's own heart. Look at this beautiful language!
 "Is it the way of the otter, he (Otter) wondered, to be alone." 

Resources/Activities: The New York Times pairs this book with Apple Cake by Julie Paschkis to explore different views of it means to find love. These could lend to a talk about what people give up or trade off for things in their life that they think are more important.
     For young readers, you could pair this book with Aaron Reynolds book, Carnivores, and discuss what the terms carnivore, herbivore and omnivore mean. I reviewed Jeanne Willis' book, Tadpole's Promise that explores a similar set-up--with a different outcome!
     The publisher's webpage has a link to a note about the origin of this story. An AMAZING 81-page curriculum about river otters, commissioned by Amigos Bravos in July 2013 is posted online. It has art projects, discussion questions and one of the cutest otters I've seen on the cover!
     Mr. Howe shares a four minute documentary about the power of words on A biography and additional interview are available on Scholastic's author page. Mr. Raschka also has a video on and a biography on Scholastic's website.

     Mr. Howe is an openly gay author of over 80 children's books. IMHO I don't think this fact affects your reading of this charming book but there is a beautiful interview with Mr. Howe on the Southern Poverty Law Center website that I wanted to link to in light of the hate crime that occurred in Kansas earlier this week. I like to think that our society is moving beyond such events and am shocked and shaken each time I'm proven wrong. Can't we all get along?

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF


  1. The cover grabs me immediately. I love the illustrations and the books focus on emotions. Very clever way to deliver a message. And, your resource suggestion are superb. Like the NYT time suggestion of paring the book with Apple Cake. Nice book for the spring.

  2. Wow, this is amazing. I in awe at how Raschka can change his style to reflect the voice of the book. This looks like an important story for kids to read. Thanks Wendy!

  3. The watercolors are intriguing - definitely gonna take a look at this one. And otters - who can resist? I think our zoo has three baby otters...wondering if they're ready for visitors.

  4. LOL I love your observations about the size of our books! We'll have to check this one out. Thanks, Wendy.

  5. Mr Raschka is one of my favorite favorites! And this story sounds pretty cool. You included a lot of interesting links. Thanks!