By Loren Long
(Philomel Books, 2009)
Set a toy tractor in a preschool or kindergarten room and many a boy will drop his plastic dinosaur to take the vehicle for a joyride.
BRRRRR! RRRRMMM, RRRRMMM. VROOOM!
A few collisions may ensue, but the tractor (and its casualties—a mix of dolls, Matchbox cars and, yes, plastic dinosaurs) quickly recover. Cats have nine lives. Tractors and plastic dinosaurs? Nine thousand.
Illustrator Loren Long (Mr. Peabody's Apples) has taken the driver's seat, handling the writing and the pictures in his endearing new book, Otis. The title refers to the farmer's hard working, trusty red tractor that spends its free time leaping over bales of hay, playing ring-around-the-rosy with the ducks and sitting on a hill, gazing down at the farm that is Otis's home.
Otis doesn't make the thunderous clanks and clunks of your average four-year-old boy's toy tractor. Instead, Otis chugs away with a putt puff puttedy chuff, the sound that calms a calf that misses its mother when placed in the barn one night alongside the tractor. The red machine and the brown calf immediately form a friendship, giving Otis a buddy to make the post-work antics all the more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Otis falls out of favor with the farmer and the tractor falls into a funk. When the calf gets stuck in Mud Pond, it's up to Otis to save the day.
Otis conjures up memories of The Little Engine that Could (which Long updated in 2005), Are You My Mother? and The Island of Misfit Toys from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". This book is on equal footing with these classics as the unlikely friendship between a tiny tractor and a lonely calf makes an indelible imprint. Even Long's illustrations have a classic feel, his rolling gray landscapes making the restrained use of red, brown, denim blue and a jolt of yellow pop on the page. Loren Long is a master at capturing mood in his art, the varying expressions of Otis only making boys more eager to take toy tractors for yet another spin.
And perhaps there will be a boy or two who will lower the decibel reading, taking the tried and true RRRRMMM, RRRRMMM. VROOOM! down to a mellower putt puff puttedy chuff. What parent or teacher wouldn't want that?