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When Otis Courted Mama Hardcover – January 6, 2015
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From School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 3—Set in the southwestern desert, this adorable, humble tale of how a young coyote copes with divorced parents will win children's hearts. The cadence of the story, with its soothing repetition, balances the new dual-home reality of so many children today with the old comfort of Home where a child feels "loved through and through." The beautifully toned gouache brushwork and large swatches of color are reminiscent of Rothko's work on one page while evoking classic Golden Book aesthetics on the next. White stands out like the stars in the desert night, and the eyelashes of these coyotes are long and lush or their cheeks blush. Cardell loves his daddy who can sing and play and cook jalapeño flapjacks like no other, but he has to share his "perfectly good daddy" with a stepmother and a baby stepbrother. He loves his "perfectly good mama," but not the series of suitors that come a-courtin' but are soon sent away. Then Otis arrives, and he makes Cardell feel "a grrr form in his throat." He expects his mother to say, "We can do without Otis…but "Adiós, Otis" never came." The complicated feelings of a child who must accept a new stepparent are woefully underrepresented in children's literature. Turns out that Otis can spin a pretty good yarn that "settled on Cardell's fur like a warm blanket. Even the moon seemed to smile." Well, like Otis, this exquisitely told tale is a welcome addition to any collection.—Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City
—Kirkus, starred review
"McElmurry's...gouache illustrations revel in the desert setting, her homey paintings evoking the look of weather-beaten folk art while contributing to the story's overall humor and sweetness."
"Like Otis, Appelt is a gifted storyteller, and families whose circumstances echo Cardell’s will welcome this gentle story, which is nicely augmented by illustrator McElmurry’s gouache pictures, with their vivid desert colors."
* "Well, like Otis, this exquisitely told tale is a welcome addition to any collection."
—School Library Journal, starred review
"Author and illustrator deliver on both substance and humor, capturing childlike emotions and conveying them in witty, comforting prose and in accompanying pictures of coyotes in bandanas and ten-gallon hats...With a sympathetic and charming main character, this story will be particularly relevant for a child with a blended family."
Top customer reviews
Appelt creates an appealing protagonist in the coyote pup Cardell. He has a "most wonderful life" for a young coyote; he lives with his "perfectly good" daddy and his step-mother and step-brother part of the time, and with his "perfectly good mama" the rest of the time at the opposite end of the desert (who knew coyote families were so complicated?) In general, Cardell has his mama all to himself, and he likes it that way. He feels loved "through and through" by both his parents, and that's the way it should be.
Complications to young Cardell's life ensue when Mama's neighbor Otis comes courting, carrying ocotillo flowers in one paw and a bag of cactus candies in the other. It's clear that Mama's been dating for a while, and some of her prior suitors are comically described in the text and illustrations, but none of them was any real threat to Cardell's close ties with Mama. Otis is the first coyote caller that Mama doesn't send packing. Cardell isn't too happy about this, but his growling at Otis doesn't seem to do any good. In the end, Otis wins Cardell over and the new coyote family lives happily ever after, sticker burs and sand fleas aside.
This book deals sensitively with the many complicated feelings of jealousy that ensue for a child when a parent begins a new relationship. Cardell learns that although Otis isn't good at the same things as his own daddy, he has other qualities to offer, and in the end he still has a "perfectly good daddy and a perfectly good mama...but now Cardell also had someone else: Otis!" The casting of coyotes instead of humans in this picture book gives what could be a serious subject a playful tone. The coyotes are more human than animal, however, as they walk on two legs, and engage in decidedly human activities such as making flapjacks, playing instruments, reading books, dancing, and even painting pictures (Cardell's Mama is an accomplished artist). Yet they also engage in coyote behavior such as howling at the moon, and in addition to flapjacks, Cardell's diet includes more typical coyote-like fare such as rats and chuckwallas. Illustrator Jill McElmurry creates very large-eyed coyotes that look more cute than predator-like, and the coyotes are depicted wearing natty accessories like hats, scarves, and flowers in their fur. There's lots of local Southwest color in the story, both in the text and in Jill McElmurry's whimsical images, which make use of a traditional Southwestern palette, and the Southwestern landscape of mesas and cactus reinforces the setting for young readers.