Cotter Otter turns down different sea creatures who want to play pirates, until a storm leads them to work—and play—together.
Debut author Bleu teams with experienced illustrator Goembel (Animal Fair, 2012, etc.), whose playful illustrations portray a watery world and characters young readers will enjoy. Unfortunately, the otherwise well-plotted story has a clunky rhythm and ragged rhyme scheme that not only trips the tongue but sometimes waylays meaning. Take, for instance, the first stanza: “Cotter Otter in treasure water / with his sword held high and just the right look, / feels bold as a pirate captain with a seaweed hook.” The corresponding illustration shows only some of those details (i.e., not the seaweed hook). When a stingray asks to join the pirate game, Cotter humorously answers, “Cay Ray, your body is so flat. / You couldn’t wear a pirate hat.” Yet the refrain doesn’t quite roll off the tongue: “We are very different, can’t you see? / Playing together seems ridiculous to me.” When Cotter meets Brad Crab, he rejects him for his hurt legs. Then the otter meets a whale who volunteers to be pirate captain. “Gail whale, you are too big for a pirate ship. / If you came on board, it would surely tip!” Just as Cotter swims by a sunken pirate ship, wishing he could find mates, the water swirls and shakes—an avalanche traps the creatures underwater. “Cotter Otter can hardly see, as Gail Whale shouts, ‘We need air to breathe!’ ” Gail is also tangled in rope, which Cotter has Brad cut with his claws. Too often, though, characters’ emotions are told rather than shown, sometimes while stretching for a rhyme: “Cotter…starts to scream and pout, as rocks keep crashing causing fear and doubt.” With Gail urging them to work together, Cotter suggests the thin ray might slip through a hole in the rocks. She returns with a fleet of determined-looking stingrays, who shovel the rocks away. They all shoot to the surface for a welcome breath. The final spread shows four friends playing pirates together, the whale being the ship. Perhaps telling the story in prose, using just the right words, would have better served its child-appropriate theme and inviting illustrations.
An enjoyable, visually appealing story that needs to clean up its telling.