Quote of the Month

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

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Laughter Side of Life

For several summers days were spent in anticipation of a sighting.  Plans were made to work or read in front of the cottage so the dock on the river was never out of view.  Whenever she (could have been a he) was spotted spirits were immediately lifted.

There was playfulness in every movement.  This otter of the river enjoyed having an audience.  I could have watched for hours.  On April 29, 2014 author illustrator Sam Garton sent I Am Otter (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) into the world.

HI!  I am Otter.
No one really knows where I came
from.  Otter Keeper says that he found
me in a box on his doorstep one day.

As is the case with most youngsters Otter is small and slightly frightened of Otter Keeper but this is soon remedied with the formation of a fast friendship.  Teddy, courtesy of Otter Keeper, becomes of member of the household.  The trio has loads of fun together, particularly on Saturday and Sunday.

When Mondays roll around Otter performs every trick in the book to ensure Otter Keeper stays to play instead of going to work.  Constantly on the move and thinking Otter decides he and Teddy need a job too.  They are going to open a toast restaurant.

Soon it is plain to see this business has problems which are obviously Teddy's fault.  Reservations, the cost of toast and incorrect orders lead to customer complaints which in turn lead to customers being forced to leave.  Teddy is out of a job and Giraffe is the new chef.

As if Otter does not have enough worries, Otter Keeper comes home.  Getting everyone out of sight is highly difficult.  There is no time to clean up the mess.  Hide!

Unfortunately Otter Keeper finds Otter, orders a tidying up session and requires all the guests to be returned to their proper places.  In his defense Otter places the blame for this disaster on Teddy.  Where IS Teddy?  Oh, no!  There is no time to rest, Teddy must be found.  A sleepless night tells a tale with more than one ending.

Sam Garton must be part otter as his narrative clearly depicts the frisky nature of these charming creatures.  In the character of Otter we see an inventive personality with endless energy.  By having the story told from Otter's point of view, humor builds as the story progresses.  The disparity between the words and images are sure to generate multiple laugh-out-loud moments.

Digitally created using Adobe Photoshop all the illustrations, beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case, radiate the exuberance of Otter.  We know Otter will be cooking with his pals.  The tie hanging on the "O" signifies his stint as restaurateur.  The pale yellow background draws our attention to the vibrant full color palette.  On the back, to the left, we see other companions, toys, of Otter's along with a sign reading

open ----->

The blue on Giraffe becomes the background color for the opening and closing endpapers (foreshadowing?).  On the title page Garton begins the story with a box left on the doorstep of Otter Keeper's home.  A crisp white is the canvas for all of the images.

The size of the visuals is a reflection of the text.  They are placed on single pages, two, three, or five to a page, toward the bottom, off to the left or right or for emphasis across two pages, edge to edge.  They are in direct contrast to and enhance the narrative.

Every single detail, of which there are many, heightens the hilarity; Otter wearing a helmet while drive a motorized car with Teddy as a passenger, Otter wearing glasses and a party hat singing karaoke, or Otter throwing Otter Keeper's clock in the goldfish bowl to stop time.   Otter's expressions especially when interacting with the inanimate toys are laughter-inducing.

One of many favorite illustrations is for the phrase

Some of the customers
complained and had to be
asked to leave the restaurant.

We see a window on the outside of Otter Keeper's home open.  Two clay pots are on the sill.  A garbage can, overflowing, is beneath the window along with a broom.  Toys are being tossed out of the window.

This year on May 5th, the second book in the series Otter in Space (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) was released to readers.  An outing with Otter Keeper and Teddy does not end with the return home.  Ever creative Otter is ready for a new adventure.

On Sunday, Otter Keeper took me
and Teddy to the museum.
The museum is the best place ever!

A dinosaur skeleton, a large life-like bear, classic artwork and artifacts are all intriguing but the section dedicated to space is Otter's favorite place.  Interactive exhibits are a treat for this on-the-move otter.  At the gift shop an armload of goodies to take home is reduced to a single item by Otter Keeper. The toy space ship is nifty but what's a rocket without a moon rock.

On Monday, Otter, Teddy and Giraffe all agree a moon rock is needed.  Otter thinks and thinks and thinks some more.  Like a blast into outer space, the perfect plan pops into Otter's head.  Teddy and Otter are going to get a moon rock from the moon.

A list of necessary steps is made and followed.  Space suits are fashioned and training is started.  Teddy is having a hard time with keeping the gear on and problem solving but does a smashing job with antigravity (washing machine).  It seems Giraffe is selected to be mission control.

Totally focused and clearly task-oriented Otter builds a spaceship destined to land on the moon or the nearby slide.  The results of the journey are not as expected but our fearless astronaut is not to be deterred.  A moon rock must be secured for the return to Earth.  Otter Keeper in none too happy about this newest discovery but Otter always has a plan.  You'll be triply surprised.

The way the mind of Otter works through the words of Sam Garton is a constant source of comedy.  His viewpoint appreciates the wonder found in everyday things; things others take for granted.  The simple sentence structure will appeal to younger readers (and those fortunate enough to read these aloud).  Here are a couple of sentences.

We saw a huge dinosaur skeleton
and met Teddy's cousin.
We looked at old paintings,
made before crayons were invented.
In a museum, even boring things
become interesting if they are
old enough.

Like the title text on the first book, when you run your fingers over it, you will feel the raised letters.  The shaded blue sky on the matching dust jacket and book case signify a journey in the making.  The attire worn by Otter, Teddy and Giraffe will certainly create smiles and questions.  To the left, on the back, Otter is reading a book titled Outer Space to Teddy as they sit on a hill.  The hue in the word Otter is used as the color for the opening and closing endpapers.

Beneath the title page text, we see Otter's backpack, the toy space ship, crayons, a museum guide and Teddy's backpack.  A charming two-page picture, for the verso and first page, features the museum, surrounding trees and decorated enclosure with Otter Keeper, Otter and Teddy standing in front ready to begin their tour.  Rendered in Adobe Photoshop the placement and size of the images supply pacing to complement and enhance the story.

As in the first title, Otter and Teddy wear attire as if they are small children.  When traveling in the car, Otter has a car seat and Teddy is securely fastened in a seat belt.  This will delight readers of all ages.  Another source of smiles is the writing of Otter.  Words are spelled as they sound but not necessarily correctly.

There are so many illustrations I adore in this title (as in the first one) but one of my favorites is of Otter and Teddy taking a lunch break before making the space suits.  The two are seated together on the floor.  Teddy is propped against the toy space ship with Otter feeding him strawberry jam with a spoon.  Otter is eating slices of toast and snacks while reading a comic book...upside down.  His water cup with a straw is close at paw.

Get ready for giggles and grins when reading I Am Otter and Otter in Space written and illustrated by Sam Garton.  A singular point of view and an ingenious spirit will endear readers to the character of Otter.  Hand these books to readers who love to laugh; life is too short not to enjoy it in the same spirit as this charming creation of Sam Garton.  Otter Loves Halloween hit shelves in book shops on July 21, 2015.  I can hardly wait to get a copy.

To learn more about Sam Garton and his work, please visit his website by following the link attached to this name.  There are two websites dedicated to Otter, I Am Otter, an updated blog and I Am Otter from the publisher. 

Enjoy this video about Sam Garton and some of the gathered tweets from Twitter. 

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