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Otto Grows Down Hardcover – February 3, 2009
Otto is not happy about the arrival of his baby sister. At his sixth birthday party, he blows out the candles and wishes that Anna had never been born. Sure enough, time starts moving backward, and before long, his parents are heading to the hospital (happily, the scene of Anna being returned from whence she came isn’t depicted). Soon, however, Otto is regretting his wish, as he unpaints his drawing paper, brings the garbage inside on trash day, and finds “going to the bathroom . . . downright disgusting.” (This is demurely depicted with Otto on the toilet seat. Horrified.) Worst of all, however, is watching his birthdays roll back until he is just a baby. At the last possible moment, Otto figures out how to restart the clock. There’s lots of fun to be had with this Benjamin Button–like concept, and both words and pictures do a good job of mining it. The pen-and-paint artwork, with its bigheaded characters and use of strong shapes and colors, is eye-catching, while the be-careful-what-you-wish-for message comes through loud and clear. Preschool-Grade 1. --Ilene Cooper
"The deadpan drollery of Magoon’s cartoon-style illustrations should appeal to adults as well as children, matching the quirkiness of Sussman’s premise. Otto’s demonstrative lack of enthusiasm as he shakes his rattle for Anna is flat-out hilarious, and his growing consternation as he begins to live his life backward comes across loud and clear. Genuine issue gracefully handled." --Kirkus Reviews
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True to the secret power of birthday wishes made under the correct conditions, Otto gets his heart's desire. Unfortunately, when Otto rewraps and returns all of his presents, he starts to get an idea that something may have gone horribly wrong. From leaving the barber with longer hair than he started out with, to getting out of the bathtub dirty instead of clean, Otto's un-growth is producing more than a few undesirable consequences.
As Otto arrives at his fifth birthday he attempts to fix his fateful wish. No luck. Fourth birthday? No. Third? No. Otto is stuck and the situation isn't looking good as Otto's second birthday also comes and goes.
Now, its Otto's last chance; his first birthday, but what can he do, he can't even talk anymore!
Find out more by checking out this delightful, sometimes disgusting book on being careful of what you wish for and learning that maybe that new baby isn't so bad after all.
Why 4 stars instead of 5? The artwork is just not my style. A personal thing.
Some picture books are pure fluff. This book is not and that is a good thing. Otto Grows Down, the fascinating and funny children's book by Michael Sussman stretches the imagination. I can guarantee Sussman's book will make children think, particularly about jealousy and also the concept of time. Most kids with siblings will at some point develop feelings of resentment. Using humor, the book provides a good starting point for discussions with children about sibling rivalry. Otto feels awful about his wish and learns a valuable lesson, put best by the illustrator Magoon, "Otto grew up when he grew down."
Besides the sibling rivalry slant, the book is very clever in other ways as well. While talks about jealousy are helpful, my preschool daughter found the fantasy of time moving backwards most intriguing. Before reading the book to her, I must admit to wondering whether she would grasp the concept or get scared about time in reverse. After a little explanation she so totally got it and loved the pretend aspect. In fact, she wants to keep talking about time moving backwards. So much so, that we've read the book nearly every single day. Her favorite parts of the book include the illustration of the wristwatch hands going the wrong direction and the bathroom scene. (Fair warning, the book contains a small bit of potty humor, something that all children seem to love.) The other clever point? Teachers and parents should find this book quite useful in teaching about palindromes -- words or phrases that read the same way backward or forward. All the names of the characters in the book are palindromes: Otto, Anna, Bob, Mom and Dad.
Scott Magoon's mostly dark, cartoonish illustrations bring feeling to the story. His use of color helps display Otto's emotion, with muted blacks and grays showing his discontentedness and love inspired orangish-red when events turn around. On a sidenote, I personally think Otto has worse problems than the birth of his sibling, namely his father's choice in clothing. His father seems to make a habit out of wearing Hawaiian shirts, sometimes paired with cardigan sweaters and plaid pants. Talk about embarrassing. I know what I'd be wishing for on my next birthday if I were Otto.