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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Otter and Odder, A Love Story. Written by James Howe and illustrated by Chris Racshka. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $17.00 ages 5 and up

"Myrtle (or Gurgle, if you prefer)
had not been looking for love,
either. She had been looking to
stay alive. Please don't eat me,
her round, sweet, glistening eyes
pleaded with Otter
while he was gazing into them,
finding love."

We've seen it before...take two incredible artists, one to write the story and one to illustrate it, and don't be too surprised when you get something quite beautiful. That being said, you should definitely get out there and find yourself a copy of Otter and Odder. Then you, too, can be awed by the talents of James Howe and Chris Raschka as I am every time I see their work. What a spectacular collaboration!

When we live in a world that needs to legislate what love is, and where racism continues to exist, and where one person or group of people espouse life as it should be lived for all, we need wondrous books that speak to children of love, tolerance and understanding.

Otter did not start his day looking for love:

"But when Otter gazed into those eyes -
those round, sweet, glistening eyes -
he knew that he had found what he had
not known he was looking for.
"Impossible," he said.
"I am in love with my food source."

James Howe helps kids understand how tough it is for otter to fall in love with someone who is different. While in a joyful world, they can share time together and enjoy many happy moments, in the awful world it would not be so simple:

"Have you heard about Otter?" it began (the talking, that is).
"He was always odd, now he is odder."
"He has lost his mind," some said,
unable to see that he had lost nothing,
only found his heart.
"It isn't right."
"It isn't natural."
"It isn't the way of the otter."

Leave it to Beaver, a wise and supportive friend who gives advice that makes sense of Otter's world and makes way for a different reality.

Chris Raschka uses watercolor and pencil to create his watery world of wonder. His double page spreads seem childlike; they are anything but that. They show us a world where all things are possible, where trusting what is in your heart is the essence of life as you lead it. The colors are constantly changing, altering moods: witness the tight circle of carnivorous friends, red mouths agape.

There is absolutely no preachiness in this lovely tale; it does, however, give readers pause to consider that one way is not the only way to live a life:

"But Otter and Myrtle did not listen.
They swam together.
They played hide-and-go-seek together.
They discussed the mysteries of life and love
with Beaver while dining on plankton
and apples and the fruit of the water lily."


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