What Does the Scrowcrow Know? Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long
IT WAS SUMMER WHEN THE SCARECROW CAME TO THE FARM.
Otis, the cheerful, chuffing little old tractor, never seems to meet a stranger. That is, until the scarecrow seems to grow tall right in the cornfield. Otis huffs and puffs up to greet the newcomer staring down the pesky crows, but Otis's initiative draws not a smile or even a glance. The Scarecrow keeps scowling into the distance, and Otis' welcome is given short shrift. The other animals get the same dead-eyed stare and frown. The cheeky crows react first with fear, but finally with disdain, perching on his straw hat and overall-clad shoulders.
As the fall colors fade toward wintry shades, Otis does his chores, chugging by, pulling wagon loads of pumpkins and hay bales on their way in from the fields to the barn, but the Scarecrow never nods a scant greeting as the little tractor huff-puffs by. The farm animals recognize that the Scarecrow wants no company, and they give him his privacy gladly. No one seems to know what goes in inside the Scarecrow's head.
Then the autumn is gone, and winter weather chases Otis and his barnyard friends under cover in the cozy barn.
AND IN THE FIELD, SWAYING BACK AND FORTH IN THE COLD WIND AND RAIN, WAS THE SCARECROW.
OTIS THOUGHT ABOUT HOW THE SCARECROW MUST BE FEELING.
Slowly Otis cranks up and chug-chugs up to stop right beside the Scarecrow, sharing the heat from his warm engine. As the storm batters them, one by one the farm animals abandon their cover and come up to join Otis in a quiet circle around the Scarecrow.
AS OTIS WATCHED, HE COULDN'T BE SURE, BUT HE THOUGHT HE MIGHT HAVE SEEN THE SCARECROW SMILE.
Loren Long's fifth Otis story, Otis and the Scarecrow (Philomel, 2014), has the exuberant Otis encountering for the first time someone whom he can't quite seem to befriend. Author-illustrator Long leaves the ending ambiguous. Does the empathy of the Otis and friends draw a smile from the silent scarecrow or not? Still, Long's beautiful retro-styled pencil and gouache illustrations and ruddy autumnal palette warm the heart in this gentle tale of easy-going empathy that models concern for the outsider.
Pair this one with Long's Christmas entry An Otis Christmas (see 2013 review here).