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OTTER AND ODDER by James Howe Kirkus Star


A Love Story

by James Howe & illustrated by Chris Raschka

Age Range: 5 - 9

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7636-4174-0
Publisher: Candlewick

The love between a fish and an otter is given the thoughtful treatment such an unexpected attraction deserves.

The homophonous title arouses curiosity while intimating troubled waters. Although it is love at first sight in the opening spread, the central conflict—that fish fall beneath otters in the food chain—is present as well. Howe explores the pleasure and pain of loving someone who is different from one’s self in a manner that is both sophisticated and accessible to children. His rhapsodic language recalls William Steig’s in The Amazing Bone (1976). Myrtle (really Gurgle, the fish) ponders “…the stirrings of her own / heart— / her own tremulous / fish-not-wishing-to-be-dinner / heart— / awakened to… / not only love but a future / she could never have imagined.” The author builds suspense and credibility by twice speculating on the outcome. He first imagines what would happen “in a perfect world,” then “in a tragic tale.” Ultimately, Beaver’s wisdom helps Otter overcome his instincts and the gossipers’ ill will (a reality magnified by their tightly-knit circle, viewed from below). Raschka’s childlike renderings of creatures in thick, penciled outlines create the innocence, mirror the hope and provide the universality that contributes to the title’s ascent above its purely message-driven counterparts.

Ever-changing watercolor washes and primordial shapes depict a wondrous, liquid world in which the star-crossed lovers learn to trust their hearts. (Picture book. 5-9)