Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gifts of December

It's the first full week in November. We had snow, hail and sleet off and on for days last month and more has arrived today. We've had our first Winter Weather Advisory and Lake Effect Snow Advisory along with the accompanying Gale Warnings.  Winter won't officially be here for another forty-four days on December twenty-first but Mother Nature has plans of her own.

Despite all our advancements in weather predictions, the potential for surprises still exists.  In no time at all, an event can materialize when we least expect it.  Winning a forever place in our hearts, announcing his presence with  putt puff puttedy chuff, the courageous little red tractor has returned in An Otis Christmas (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.).  Written and illustrated by Loren Long, Otis reminds us, as he did in Otis, Otis and the Tornado and Otis and the Puppy, where there is a will, there is a way.

It was wintertime on the farm where the friendly little tractor named Otis lived.  Snow covered the hills, church bells rang through the cold wintry valley, and Christmas was almost here.

Around the farm, the farmer has been busy decorating with strings of lights, wreaths and ornaments, even on the tree outside.  Otis' love of Christmas is multiplied this year; the mare is about to deliver a foal.  His excitement at welcoming a new member into his circle of friends has him putt puff puttedy chuffing in joyous anticipation.

When Otis thinks life could not get any better, it does.  On Christmas Eve the farmer gifts Otis with a brand new horn.

"A special tractor needs a special horn."

As the snow begins to fall, announcing the beginning of the predicted storm, our marvelous mechanical friend drifts off to sleep.

The sound of talking, worried voices, awakens Otis.  There is trouble, serious trouble, with the mare who is now lying on her side. The farmer and his helper both agree she needs Doc Baker to live through the night.

When the farmhand attempts to drive the truck through the piles of snow, he ends up stuck in a drift.  With determination and bravery Otis sets off into the stormy night taking a short cut to Doc Baker's house.  Snow makes the woods look different; Otis realizes he is lost.

This is Christmas Eve though, the night of miracles. A path is taken. A gift sounds a call for help.  As dawn breaks on Christmas morning an extraordinary new sight is there for all to see.

With a single sentence, Loren Long reaches out a hand which readers gladly hold, as he takes us back into the world of Otis and his farm family.  Paragraph by paragraph he brings us into the rhythm of life on the farm.  Much like the storytellers of old Long's words surround us; we get a true sense of the sights and sounds.  We can hear the animals enjoying their Christmas Eve feast, we understand the worry filling the heart and mind of the farmer, and we travel with Otis through the cold, wind and deep snow.

This life on the farm is not without its problems, but in the character of Otis we have a champion.  When you think about it, imagine how tractors have changed the face of farming, not only for the work in the fields but for the numerous tasks they accomplish on a daily basis.  I'll wager they've saved the day more than once on farms throughout the country.  This is Otis, a friend who sees a need, does the deed no matter what the risks may be.  Here are a couple passages from this book.

The horse was pacing back and forth, breathing heavily, and swinging her head up and down.
Something was wrong.

The truck lunged forward, fishtailed this way and that, and promptly slid down the hill, plunging into a snowdrift. Otis watched as the farmhand spun the tires deeper and deeper into the snow.

On the matching jacket and cover, Loren Long sends out an invitation for readers to join Otis in this special holiday.  (Gold foil is used for Christmas on the jacket.) On the back he features an illustration from inside circled in red; Otis is getting his gift from the farmer.  As in the other titles a tiny Otis is racing toward the ISBN barcode.  Cool blue endpapers compliment the jacket and cover, matching the chill of winter.  Using ample white space the empty tree, shadow falling across the snow, with two geese gazing upward and scattered ornaments, a red ribbon, a gift card and the horn, are the sole illustrations on the two separate title pages.

Throughout this title as we shift from inside the barn to the outside on the farm and outlying areas, Long alternates his palette shades to reflect a warmth, a soft glow of light seen in the barn windows, the closeness and familial feeling among the animals and their human caretakers in contrast to the same color as on the endpapers, predominant when we are out in the winter weather.  When you turn the page to the first illustration, there's Otis putt puff puttedy chuffing through the snow, the calf and puppy at his side.  In the distance is the bull by the barn, the special tree, tiny on the hillside.  All the stories are brought together in this picture.  We feel at home immediately.

That's the loving skill of Loren Long, using gouache and pencil, to bring his readers another story of Otis.  Whether double page or single page pictures framed in those thicker black wavy lines, each one draws us deeper into the world of Otis, enhancing the narrative. Details define the setting further, puffs of smoke coming from Otis and chimneys, snow spitting out from tractor tires as Otis climbs, tiny colored lights strung around a porch roof, large snowflakes against a stormy sky or light from the barn casting shadows on the snow.  As in the other books, it's nearly impossible to select a favorite illustration but the close-up of Otis admiring his horn in the barn is joyful and charming.

In An Otis Christmas Loren Long honors the genuine meaning of Christmas, the bond formed between family and friends and the heart-warming spirit of a single tractor always ready to do the right thing.  After meeting Loren Long at the ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition this summer, the gentleman working with him invited me to look at the F & G of this title.  There amid all the hubbub swirling around me, I was able to step inside the book leaving it all behind.  Then and now, I am deeply touched by this open, simple and sincere story.

Please follow the link embedded in Loren Long's name to access his website.  There you will find drawings and paintings from this book.  Otis has his own website now.  Enjoy these and the video below.

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