When Otis Courted Mama
When Otis Courted Mama
Kathi Appelt, illus. by Jill McElmurry
ISBN 9780152166885
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
5 stars
Keywords: animal-characters family kathi-appelt separation stepparents when-otis-courted-mama

When Otis Courted Mama
by Kathi Appelt, illus. by Jill McElmurry

With the singing rhythms of her Bubba and Beau series, Kathi Appelt introduces endearing Cardell, a coyote pup with a "perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy." All is well, until Otis comes along.

Jill McElmurry's (The Tree Lady) gouache compositions in desert tones spotlight the "perfectly good" parents with their pup. Vignette illustrations of Cardell's daddy flipping jalapeño flapjacks, playing "Zig-the-Zag" across the sand, and singing with his son by moonlight portray their special relationship. The only trouble is that Cardell's father lives on one side of the desert, and his mother on the other. A panoramic view of Cardell and his mama scouting gives way to a close-up of them at their easels. Author and artist present a well-adjusted child who loves both parents equally. Cardell likes his stepmother and stepbrother, too. "But all of that was before Otis, their new neighbor, showed up at their door." Appelt describes his mama's previous suitors through Cardell's eyes, and readers will immediately observe, by contrast, Otis's kind eyes and thoughtful manner. Though Cardell GRRRs ("He put Otis on notice"), Otis persists with a batch of prickly pear pudding, an impressive show of pouncing, and tales of horned toads and "little coyotes with big GRRRs" until Cardell's fades away.

Visual and verbal echoes of happy scenes foreshadow Otis making his way slowly not only into Cardell's mama's heart, but into the pup's heart, too. This lilting tale will reassure readers adjusting to new family arrangements that, "sticker burs and sand fleas aside," they will be okay.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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