Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When No One Is Looking

A bright red calligraphic word grabs your attention immediately on the cover of Katie Cleminson's newest title, Otto The Book Bear (Disney-Hyperion, January 31 2012)  Opening the cover readers are greeted with endpapers awash in blueprint blue shelving filled with books spines facing outward, some depicting tiny drawings from her previous books or other tales from childhood.  Moving to the dedication page a tiny little bear balancing on a cup handle leaning over the rim to take a sip is pictured above an old style book pocket, a lined check-out card, listing Katie Cleminson's previous books, nestled inside.

Completely charmed already, knowing that something special is coming, the next page is turned.  The first two page spread, mostly white, pictures a large open blue-covered book.  On the left in handwritten text is:

Once upon a time...

followed on the right with a richly-colored brown bear sitting on the page, red satchel by his side.  We read:

Otto was a book bear.

Otto lives inside a book shelved in a home where children reading his story gives him great joy.  But Otto is no ordinary bear.  He can walk right out of his book coming to life when everyone has gone.  Reading his best-loved tales and writing on the typewriter are two of his favorite pastimes during these jaunts around the house.

One day though, to Otto's dismay, the family moves leaving him behind, his book is not packed with the others.  With the heart of an adventurer Otto sets off to find himself some company.  Overwhelmed by the size of the outside world, Otto, as small as he is, feels invisible.  Seeking a new home is filled with obstacles; too much of this and not enough of that.

Sitting inside a discarded paper coffee cup, Otto assesses his situation.  City life is not for this bear; a warm book is more to his liking.  Nevertheless trudging on, realizing that he is near exhaustion, something ahead gives him the courage to continue.

Otto enters a building, walls filled with shelves, shelves filled with books.  Scaling a shelf the determined bear is astonished---another book bear!  More surprises are in store for the bear readers have come to admire and love.  His greatest pleasures are multiplied; libraries do hold more magic than one can imagine.

Illustrations done in heavy black lines filled in with a range of color depict a childlike innocence much like the pages of a coloring book; the varied hues appear to be done in watercolor but some are textured like chalk or crayon. The large expanses of white space make the pictures pop beckoning the reader to follow Otto.  Cleminson chooses to alter her pictures sizes and placement of bold large text depending on the storyline.

So many of these visuals are worthy of framing.   Two of my favorites are Otto sitting on the spacebar of the typewriter working on his writing skills and resting inside the coffee cup holding his red satchel.  Of notice is the inclusion of an old dial-up telephone on a table, a gramophone next to the bookshelf where Otto's book is shelved and of course, the typewriter; these small details lead one to reminisce, daydream if you will, about possibilities.

PLEASE NOTE:  I received an email from Katie Cleminson (thanks so much for replying so quickly) confirming that her illustrations are drawn with ink.  Instead of using a brush or nib, she uses a pipette.  In this particular title she added watercolor, charcoal and colored pencil to the ink drawings.  She likes to draw on cartridge paper.  Red is her favorite color; I can't resist using it in all my books, and I just love the shade of red for the cover title.  I couldn't agree more.

Otto The Book Bear by author/illustrator Katie Cleminson is enchanting; pure perfection in every respect.  Books, reading and the library being a place full of light and hope is the total package. Who could ask for anything more?

The wheels are turning as I contemplate pairing this with other titles to have another bear day in the library media center or perhaps couple it with other books that have animal explorers visiting libraries;   Bats at the Library by Brian Lies, Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk, or Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen.

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