When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
When Otis Courted Mama, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a new book about blended families, something that is rare the world of picture books, and even more rarely done well. That said, When Otis Courted Mama is done really well, so well that I almost hate to mention that it even is a story about blended families, preferring to refer to it solely as the great story - magnificently illustrated - that it is. But, since books for young children that touch on these themes are so rare, it must be said. Appelt has a winning way of telling the story of Cardell, the coyote, who had a "mostly wonderful life" before Otis. Cardell had a "perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy" who adored him. And Cardell "adored them, too. With good reason." The "mostly wonderfuls" and "perfectly goods" take the edge off what could be a very didactic, Berenstain Bears type of story. Little listeners and young readers tend to be more assured of the authenticity of a character who has it good, but not perfect.
Appelt does a fine job of pointing out the good things about Cardell's perfectly good mom (champion scouting abilities and a master artist) and perfectly good dad (master at playing Zig-the-Zag and making jalapeño flapjacks with saguaro syrup) along with the problems of dividing his time between two households, despite a "perfectly nice stepmama, Lulu, and his perfectly cute stepbrother, Little Frankie."
Cardell even seems to take his mother's oft-rejected suitors in stride, equally put off by Cleburne, who, despite being a good dancer, slobbered as he danced, the conceited, accordion playing Pierre and the know-it-all Professor Coot. However, Otis is a different matter and Mama does not share Cardell's opinion of him. However, Otis, through effort and thoughtfulness - and delicious prickly pear pudding - wins over Cardell and Mama. Appelt ends When Otis Courted Mama with everyone - both families - happily howling at the moon and these words;
After Otis, Cardell still had a perfectly good daddy and a perfectly goof mama, a perfectly nice stepmama and a perfecyly cute stepbrother. But now Cardell also had someone else: Otis!
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Written and illustrated by Jill McElmurry:
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Source: Review Copy