T.A.A. Fans Old and New,
Welcome to another edition of Weekly Readings!
Usually, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews a mix of picture books I’ve read here and there. But this week, I’m focusing on one book in particular-
I Am Otter (@i_am_otter)
by Sam Garton (@SamuelGarton)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (An Imprint of HarperCollins)
Pub. Date: April 29, 2014
As Long time T.A.A. fans know, this book was one of our “Most Anticipated Book of 2014” picks during our 2013 celebration of “Picture Book Month” founded and run by author Tara Lazar (Her debut picture book “The Monstore” is available June 4th, 2014) and this is one of the few things in life I have ever pre-ordered, which I can still count on one hand.
Your lit. rat has read and re-read this book, and I’m happy to finally be able to say it was worth the wait. But for those of you not yet convinced, or just unaware of this book (and it’s star) allow me to clue you in, but before I go further-
Question, what do “I Am Otter” and Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series have in common?
They both began as online “Experiments” that soon attracted many eyeballs across the web, and particularly in the case of Otter, across continents, and soon their now publishers (Amulet Books [U.S.] and Balzer + Bray [imprint of HarperCollins] respectively) approach them for bringing them to print, and the road to this book’s release is a great example of “Out of the Box” marketing that today’s authors and/or illustrators can learn from, but that’s a topic for another time and place…
Anyway, our tittle character has something in common with another famous kidlit character, the iconic Paddington Bear, who also began life anew when he migrated from darkest Peru to England where a mild-mannered family took him in, unaware of the adventures and antics that would await them…
But while P.B. had an established biological family in his native homeland before being taken in by the Brown family, Otter began not knowing where she came from when left on the doorstep of the human (Known as Otter Keeper) who like the Browns, got more than he bargained for…
Children from adoptive or blended families can relate to Otter’s initial unease settling in, and like many children, a special
toy friend can make all the difference, just like Christopher Robin and Pooh and Co., or a non-wizard Harry had his bucket of dinosaurs, Otter has Teddy, and together with Otter Keeper, they have more fun than you could believe!
But as the saying goes, all unbelievable fun has to come to an end, and after a fun-filled weekend, Monday comes, and with that, Otter Keeper goes to work, and despite Otter’s attempts to prevent Monday from coming, it always barges in-
This is one of rare books that comes along every so often, where the reader’s not only rewarded with a plucky, well-defined character, but for anyone who had to “Make your own fun” from an early age as I did, can relate to Otter doing her best to pass the time, some ideas working better than others, and yet somehow always involve messes and mayhem, just when the grown-up in your life comes home and there’s nowhere to hide!
As with many picture books, facial expressions are very important to highlight the unspoken moments that bring characters alive, and that vital quality is in full view here as subtle lines and shading indicate fear, anger, movement and joy.
While many folks relent (or at least occasionally bummed out) how digital the world of visual arts has become, there’s nothing to fear here. To me, the best visual artists still achieve this organic warmth to their illustrations, even if the final art to appear in the book was digitally enhanced, or it was digital all along.
Even books where technology is inherently modern and integral to the story, that warmth is still there, and vital to the experience. You’ll find that detail throughout.
Not since Snoopy, Garfield, or Calvin and Hobbes have I met a character as lively and unique as Otter, may she have a long and lorded life in the literary landscape for many years to come.
Look out, Olivia, there’s a new picture book princess in town. (We still love you, too, though!)
While this lit. rat normally prefers to work solo when it comes to our book reviews at T.A.A., this was a title that I wanted some extra POVs on, and with that, I’ll let my friends, Swinebert & Dempsey (who shared in the launch celebration of I Am Otter at the end of April 2014), share their thoughts on Otter, her book, and it how relates to them-
Swinebert: This book reminded me of the day I met Ferenc. I used to live on a ranch with my Ma, Pa, and siblings.
Unlike most pigs, we weren’t raised to be…food, but rather for show.Ma was a retired show pig, and Pa worked in movies (Think Babe or Gordy), and to Mr. Gregory we weren’t his “Meal Ticket” in more ways than one, we were his friends, family even.
But times got tough when the human recession of 2008 hit. Mr. Gregory was being pressured to sell the ranch, and sell me, and my siblings for slaughter meat. It was during those scary times I met Ferenc when he was a kid.
He not only found a way to save the ranch, but saved me, my sibs, and our folks from being sent to Hog Heaven (By way of a Butcher) and gave Mr. Gregory a new lease on life along with his livelihood.
When Mr. Gregory insisted on giving Ferenc a reward for his help, the only thing he wanted, was to take me home. He had a heck of a time convincing his parents to bring me home, but thank acorns he did.
Ferenc also gave me my name, the “Bert” in it came from his favorite uncle, and my new life had begun in earnest…
(Left Ferenc & Swinebert as Youth | Right, Ferenc & Swinebert Grown-Up)
For many years we lived in Brooklyn, but after Ferenc grew up and graduated college we moved out to put down our own roots in White Oak Acres, a quiet-looking city-town hybrid in suburbia-
(Overhead view of White Oak Acres)
(Swinebert & Dempsey’s House)
Here I would meet my best pal, Dempsey, and make so many new and captivating friends, including Otter.
Though we’ve not met outside cyberspace, I knew when I first encountered her when me and Dempsey were getting our barrings on Twitter, she’d fit right in with the folks we know and love offline.
But even though she’s my friend, I’d love the book even if I’d not known her (virtually or otherwise) beforehand, because it reminds me how lucky I am to have Ferenc, and while I’m sometimes ticked off when he leaves me out of cool stuff, he’s there for me when it counts. The only problem is-
My little nephew Trug (who loved the book, too, after his favorite uncle, ME, read it to him) has fallen in love with Otter, and when I say love, I mean the “Flowers and Chocolate-covered acorns, WILL YOU MARRY ME?” kind of love.
Otter, should you read this, can you please give a shout out to my nephew Trug on Twitter? I don’t want to lose my “Coolest Uncle Ever!” status. Dempsey: Like Swinebert, this book reminded me of the day I met my human, Vermont (Goes by “Vernie”) back when I was a kitten. (This was long before I met Swinebert and his human, by the way)
Vernie (when he was a little boy) originally wanted a dog, but got me instead, and at first he didn’t like me.
I too wasn’t sure I’d like Vernie at first, either, until I saw his room the first time, and saw his bookshelf, filled to bursting with books, except the last shelf on the bottom. (More on that later…)
Vernie loved to read, as did I, that was the first glimmer of hope, but what put my kitty heart at ease was when he was reading a book for school.
Vernie had a hard time learning to read, and reading aloud helped him remember it better, one night as he read aloud, I hopped onto the desk to keep him company. Also, because he was reading a story I wanted to hear for ages. He saw I was engaged and he kept reading to me.
When he finished, I thanked him for telling me the story, and that I could help him read better if he was interested, and if you could’ve seen the look on his face, you’d think he’d won MILLIONS or something.
Anyway, he agreed, and as I helped him read better, we started to connect, the first time he hugged me (Because he WANTED to, not because he was told to) I wanted to cry tears of joy, but we cats aren’t ones for crying (Unless we’re in pain) so I purred instead.
I asked him why he didn’t like me at first.
He said the last time he met a cat, it was mean to him, and he did nothing wrong to it, and it made him think all cats were mean, but meeting me changed his mind, and I’d already changed my mind about Vernie. No one who loves books as he does (Especially because he struggled with reading in the beginning) can be all bad.
He’s grown up now, and still wants a dog, so S.B. and I’ll probably have a howling new member of the family someday, but Vernie and I are like Otter and Teddy now, true friends and inseparable, until (like Otter Keeper) he has to go to work, but with S.B. and our friends, I’m never bored or lonely.
But when I do want my “Alone Time” (which all cats do at some point) I can nap in the bottom shelf of Vernie’s bookcase that I mentioned earlier, and can look at a picture of Vernie and me when I do miss him, or read a book from my literary collection, but I have to store most of my books in my private library in my and S.B.’s backyard clubhouse-
(Swinebert & Dempsey’s Backyard Clubhouse)
Special Thanks to Swinebert & Dempsey (@Swinebert_and_D) for stopping by to share their opinions (and a bit of themselves) today. That’s it for Weekly Readings. Next time, we’ll be back to our usual multi-book format.
UPDATE (5/16/14): Giveaway’s over! Winner announced.