Friday, November 13, 2015
When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt
HMH Books for Young Readers
Rating: 5 stars
Cardell the coyote had "a mostly wonderful life. He had a perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy." They both adored him. The thing was, that they were no longer together. Cardell mostly lived with his mama, but sometimes he spent time with his daddy and step-mama and new stepbrother, Little Frankie. They all got along pretty well.
On the other side of the desert, Cardell lived with his mama. One day, their neighbor Otis came to pay a visit--with flowers in his paws--to his mama. "Cardell felt a grrr in his throat." But his mama was smiling.
There had been other suitors before Otis, but none lasted. Otis was different, though. In addition to paying attention to mama, he kinda courted Cardell, too. Otis made prickly pear pudding with Otis. He showed the little coyote how to pounce super high. The grrr didn't come as often.
Then one day, Otis told Cardell stories. The funniest stories! They "settled on Cardell's fur like a warm blanket." Soon, Cardell was as smitten with Otis as his mama was.
And Cardell's "mostly wonderful life" got a little bit more wonderful.
Kathy Appelt does a fantastic job of making a sweet story out of something quite sticky. If you're a child of divorce like me, you know that the the idea of stepparents is necessary and good on the one hand, but difficult and sad on the other.
A few weeks ago I attended a conference for the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators and had the chance to listen to Kathy Appelt speak. My daughter is a huge fan of her chapter books (The Underneath and True Blue Scouts of the Sugarman Swamp). One of the things Appelt talked about was the inspiration behind her stories--how she uses the people and pets she loved most in her life to write stories. Her stepfather inspired When Otis Courted Mama. Her stepdad courted her mother when Appelt and her two other sisters were teenagers--making him a fairly brave man, she now realizes. There were a few things going for him, but it was his funny and wild stories that won over the three girls--and their mama, too.
The world needs a few more books like this one. Their positive messages need to the sad, outdated stereotypes and misgivings found in books like Hansel and Gretel, which I blogged about last week.
As if this book--about an important topic that's done so very well--isn't great enough, it's illustrated by Jill McElmurry, of Little Blue Truck fame!