Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt- Review and Author Interview and Giveaway!

When Otis Courted Mama 
by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Published Jan. 2015
HMH Books for Young Readers
40 Pages
Picture Book-Fiction
Copy provided by the publisher

I was very fortunate to be able to ask Kathi Appelt about her new picture book When Otis Courted Mama. Her responses are italicized.

Why did you decide to write a book about blended families?

   When I was growing up, I was part of a blended family. My parents were divorced and first my dad remarried; then a few years later my mom remarried. So, my sisters and I had to learn to adjust to all of these new people in our lives who were—for better or worse—suddenly related to us.  
   As a person who has always found refuge in the pages of a book, I could have used a story or two that featured a family like mine. Of course, that was many years ago, and blended families seem more common now than they did back then. We’re talking decades here. But even today, while there are plenty of middle grade and young adult stories that feature blended families, there aren’t that many picture books. Anna Grossnickle Hines’s When We Married Gary is a notable exception.  
   There are also lots of stories that feature the stepparent as the 
villain. How many stepmothers and stepfathers come with the word “evil” in front of their monikers? See what I’m saying. But in reality, most stepparents are just doing their ever-loving best, and they aren’t evil at all.  
   My stepfather, George, definitely fell into this latter category. Not only that, but he was a terrific storyteller. He could spin a yarn with the best of them, and he was funny to boot. He made life mostly wonderful for my mom and my sisters and me. So, OTIS is very much a tribute to him and also to the wondrous powers of a story.

 This book has a definite southwestern feel. What made you choose this setting?

I love the sounds of the southwest. The names of the flora and fauna made my ears happy. And even though coyotes can be found pretty much all over the place, I associate them primarily with the desert southwest. Coyotes seemed like the perfect main characters because they’re so scrappy and I think most families are scrappy. I don’t know too many cute and fluffy bunny-type families. (Not that I’m dissing bunnies, just saying). And also, I wanted to give a subtle nod to Coyote the trickster. My Otis isn’t so much a trickster, but I think he understands the power of a good lark.  

How is this book different from most of your other work?

It doesn’t rhyme for one thing! I went through a period of writing picture books when it seemed like everything rhymed. Sometimes a girl has to rhyme, but with Otis, I just felt like I needed to tell the story in a straight-ahead manner, as if we were sitting around a campfire.

What question do you wish I would ask you about When Otis Courted Mama?

Well, if you asked me about the art, I would tell you that Jill McElmurry’s paintings make me over-the-moon happy. This book was a long time in the making, but it was so worth waiting for Jill’s art. Yep.

Goodreads Summary
Apart from sticker burrs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful. He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy. They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay—Cardell is mostly used to it. Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a grrr form in his throat. Otis can’t make jalapeño flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy. And so Cardell waits for Mama to say "Adiós, Otis." But what will happen if she doesn’t?

My Thoughts
This picture book is unlike any I have read. It tackles the topics of blended families, step parenthood and shared custody in a sweet and seamless way. Otis has a dad and a stepmother whom he sees "part of the time". He spends the rest of the time with his mama all to himself on the other side of the dessert. Other suitors have come to call on his mama, but she has said Adiós to all of them until she meets Otis. When Otis keeps coming around, Cordell's anger and fear are apparent and described as a "grrr" in his throat. Gradually, Cordell begins to see that, although he is not like his dad, Otis has a place in his family. As a step-parent myself, I am glad to see a book where the step parent is shown in a patient and loving light. 

 It is important for students to be able to see themselves in books. This book provides that mirror for many children dealing with divorce, step-families and feelings of loss, anger and fear. It is equally important for children whose families are in tact to see what it might be like for children who have experienced divorce. There are many opportunities for valuable discussions using this book. It is beautifully written with rich, varied language with a southwestern flair. I would highly recommend When Otis Courted Mama for any elementary school or classroom library. 

Watch the book trailer!

More about Kathi Appelt
Kathi Appelt’s perfectly wonderful stepfather was a terrific storyteller, and she grew up to become a teller of stories, too. She is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her picture books include Oh My Baby, Little One, illustrated by Jane Dyer, and the Bubba and Beau series, illustrated by Arthur Howard. Her novels for older readers include two National Book Award finalists: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and The Underneath, which was also a Newbery Honor Book. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To download a free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guide, visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/251856381/When-Otis-Courted-Mama-Curriculum-Guide#scribd or Kathi’s website at kathiappelt.com.

Bonus! Find a full-color door hanger and other fun downloadables at http://www.scribd.com/doc/251856096/When-Otis-Courted-Mama-Activity-Pages#scribd.

Visit all the other blog stops for When Otis Courted Mama.

Mon, Jan 5     5 Minutes for Books
Tues, Jan 6    Cracking the Cover
Wed, Jan 7     Sharpread
Thurs, Jan 8    Unleashing Readers
Fri, Jan 9       Once Upon a Story
Sat, Jan 10     Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 12    Geo Librarian
Tues, Jan 13    The Late Bloomer's Book Blog AND
                    NC Teacher Stuff
Wed, Jan 14   Teach Mentor Texts
Thurs, Jan 15  Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Jan 16      The Fourth Musketeer

Enter the Giveaway!
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1 comment:

  1. It's a great interview, Gigi. Happy to see this. There is more than one blended family in my classroom, and although they are older students, they will still enjoy this book!