cover image When Otis Courted Mama

When Otis Courted Mama

Kathi Appelt, illus. by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-15-216688-5

Though the anthropomorphic coyotes in this well-matched collaboration are anything but wily, Appelt (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp) takes a canny approach to the topic of accepting a stepparent. With tactical repetition, the narrator emphasizes that young Cardell has a “mostly wonderful life” with a “perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy,” even though his father lives across the desert with Cardell’s stepmother and stepbrother. Cardell’s mother has had her share of suitors, but none were up to snuff (one slobbered, another was conceited). Charming new neighbor Otis interrupts that pattern, and Cardell isn’t happy about it: “His fur bristled. His ears lay back. His GRRR... got louder. He put Otis on notice.” Affecting scenes reveal how Otis gradually wins over Cardell with kindness, persistence, and a knack for pouncing and storytelling, among other talents. McElmurry’s (the Little Blue Truck series) gouache illustrations revel in the desert setting, her homey paintings evoking the look of weather-beaten folk art while contributing to the story’s overall humor and sweetness. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. Illustrator’s agent: Marcia Wernick, Wernick & Pratt Agency. (Jan.)