BooksForKidsBlog

Monday, January 05, 2015

Coyote Courtin': When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt

BEFORE OTIS, CARDELL HAD A MOSTLY WONDERFUL LIFE. HE HAD A PERFECTLY GOOD MAMA AND A PERFECTLY GOOD DADDY. CARDELL ADORED THEM.

THE ONLY PROBLEM WAS THAT CARDELL'S PERFECTLY GOOD DADDY LIVED IN A DIFFERENT PART OF THE DESERT. CARDELL HAD TO SHARE HIM WITH HIS PERFECTLY NICE STEPMOTHER, LULU AND HIS PERFECTLY CUTE STEPBROTHER, LITTLE FRANKIE.

But most of the time Cardell has Mama to himself, and that's the way he likes it.

Mama is pretty and talented and she adores her little coyote. Life is pretty much perfect on their side of the desert.

BUT ALL OF THAT WAS BEFORE OTIS SHOWED UP AT THEIR DOOR.

Of course, a lovely lady coyote like Mama has had suitors before. There was Cleburne, a divine dancer, but with one big fault. When he sambas, he slobbers.

"WE CAN DO WITHOUT CLEBURNE," AGREED MAMA.

Other admirers come and go, and their departure pleases Cardell well.

But when Otis shows up at the their door, with ocotillo flowers and cactus candy and what looks to Cardell like a cheesy smile, he is clearly not pleased. Otis can't make jalapeno pancakes with saguro syrup or zig-zag through the sand like his daddy, and Cardell greets him with a growing growl, hoping that Mama will soon send him packing like the others.

But Otis is a coyote who doesn't quit. He makes Cardell a yummy batch of prickly pear pudding and shows off his admittedly impressive pouncing techniques. And one night Otis begins to tell campfire stories so exciting and so funny that Cardell has to howl with giggles and forgets his growl.

Romance blooms, and one night, when the planets in the starry sky are in perfect alignment, Otis proposes, and with Cardell's grin replacing his grrrrrs, Mama says

"YES."

Newbery award-winning author Kathi Appelt has in her forthcoming When Otis Courted Mama (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) a empathetic family story that will have young readers howling with giggles and grinning along with Cardell, the cutest little coyote you could want, with a warm-as-a-chili-pepper ending to this blended family story.

Artist Jill McElmurry's Southwestern-tinged gouache illustrations reveal personalities with small touches--Mama's cactus flowers worn over her ears, Daddy's bolo tie, Otis' big sombrero, and Cardell's little guitar. McElmurry's book design features action vignettes set against white pages and emotionally evocative scenes in full-bleed style, as in the double-page spread in which Otis patiently smiles while little Cardell faces off against him with his best protective growl, setting off family scenes of great insight and some sweetness and affection. Appelt and McElmurry have themselves a howling-good winner here.

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