The Little Tractor That Could introduced in Otis (2009) gets another chance to shine when a violent weather event requires a daring rescue.
Standing out against neutral-toned bucolic backdrops plainly modeled on Thomas Hart Benton’s farmscapes, Otis and his livestock friends delight in games of Follow-the-Leader—all, that is, except the penned-up bull, who greets all approaches with snarling hostility. When the winds rise and a tornado threatens, Otis hustles the animals to a dry gully…then hears the bull’s frightened bellow. Bravely racing—“putt puff puttedy chuff”—out into the storm, Otis breaks down the gate and, just in time, leads the terrified bovine bully to safety. Fronting Otis with an expressive face and depicting the angry bull from low angles to give him massive, monumental presence, Long once again places anthropomorphic figures with distinct identities in large-scale settings that have an antique look but a timeless feel. The simply told narrative likewise has a classic air: “Soon the horse would trot to the lead with a ‘Neigh, neigh,’ as his hooves clip-clop-clip-clopped.” The episode ends with a traditional resolution too, as discreetly used color highlights expand in the final scene to a brightly sunlit view of Otis leading friends—including the reformed bull—in a fresh parade through flower-strewn fields.
Technically accomplished art plus uncomplicated characters, plot and theme (depressingly timely) add up to a likely crowd pleaser. (Picture book. 5-7)