Welcome to the When Otis Courted Mama blog tour! I'm excited to be part of this celebration!
Author Kathi Appelt is here to talk about books that influenced her writing of When Otis Courted Mama. Keep reading for lots more to follow!
Books that have influenced my writing . . .
Over the course of my career, I’ve often been asked about which books have influenced my own writing. My off-the-cuff response has always been “every book I’ve ever read.” And to a certain extent that’s true.
Just as I tell my students that “every piece of writing is the piece that comes before the next piece,” I truly believe that every book I read is the one that comes before the next bit of writing that I do. Sometimes this is helpful, and sometimes it’s not.
Nevertheless, I’m in the camp that believes that good writing definitely inspires good writing, no matter the source.
Linda Sue Park often tells aspiring picture book writers that in order to write a good picture book, you have to read a thousand of them—preferably out loud. I agree. My two grown sons can attest to the fact that we read at least a thousand picture books together, probably ten times that many, as they were growing up. I’m happy to report that neither of them ever outgrew picture books. Even now, when we’re together, we still read them out loud to each other.
So, when asked about which picture books influenced my writing in WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA, it was at first hard to choose, for the simple reason that I’ve read so many. But the more I thought about it, the easier the answer became.
OTIS definitely banks on a tall-tale mentality, and the absolute master of tall tales is Tom Birdseye. It’s hard to describe how much I admire his book, AIRMAIL TO THE MOON. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell, this wonderful read-aloud features young Ora Mae Cotton, aka Oreo, an unlikely heroine who has lost her first tooth, and who believes that someone has stolen it from her, preventing the tooth fairy from leaving her enough money to buy a condominium or something equally as grand. One by one, she accuses her family members of stealing her tooth, and when she finds the real culprit she declares that she is “gonna open up a can of gotcha” and send the culprit “airmail to the moon.”
I love Oreo’s determination, her spunk, the way she operates in her world. Moreover, I love the family that tolerates her tantrums, but that also comes to her side when she finally dissolves into a complete puddle.
AIRMAIL TO THE MOON makes my ears happy. Tom’s use of repetition, alliteration, subtle rhymes, and especially idiomatic speech, just makes this book feel alive. Combined with the exuberant art, it’s a masterpiece of storytelling.
Yes, that book influenced OTIS.
Another book that I ken to is Cynthia Rylant’s THE RELATIVES CAME, also serendipitously illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The language of that book is much “softer” than Birdseye’s, but it still comes alive when read aloud. What that book offers is a perfect symmetry. I love the way that it makes a complete circle, leaving the reader with a sigh at the end. Again, it’s a family book. Unlike Oreo’s boisterous family, Rylant’s extended group of relatives is more reserved. Nevertheless, the affection they have for each other is palpable. Both books illuminate families who support each other, regardless of mishaps or distance.
What I hoped for my book was also to show a family that works it out, even when the young hero has to overcome his mixed emotions. My coyote pup, Cardell, is not as rambunctious as Oreo, nor is he as wise as the narrator in Rylant’s book. But he is held in the arms of those who love him most, even when he’s at the peak of growliness.
The third book that comes to mind is Anna Grossnickle Hines’s WHEN WE MARRIED GARY, which she wrote and illustrated. Despite the common reality of blended families, stepparents rarely show up in picture books. Anna remedied this years ago with this story that was based upon her own experience. Her book felt a lot like my own family history, a history that included my parents’ divorce and their eventual remarriages.
I could have used WHEN WE MARRIED GARY when I was a child, and I know there are a lot of other kids, kids who have stepparents and step siblings, who need to see themselves in the pages of a picture book. Moreover, they need to see strong, positive stepparents who are not in the mold of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother.
Finally, I have to put in a plug for CHARLIE ANDERSON, by Barbara Abercrombie and illustrated by Mark Graham, not only because I love cats, but because it features a family who is dealing with custody issues. The cat leads the way by showing its young girls that they can be happy in two different households, even though it might not be easy. It’s never easy. But it can be okay. It can even, after a time, be happy.
By now, you’re wondering why I’ve chosen books that have been in print for a long time. Well, first of all I read all of these to my kids when they were growing up, and that was a while back, but the other thing is that I wrote OTIS many years ago. Sometimes a book has to take its own journey through the publishing process and that’s what happened here. But that is a story for a different day. The good news is that my patient editor roped Jill McElmurry into illustrating it, and that made all the difference.
Jen, thanks so much for inviting me to be part of your wonderful blog.
More about Kathi Appelt and some resources you don't want to miss!
Kathi Appelt’s perfectly wonderful stepfather was a terrific storyteller, and she grew up to become a teller of stories, too. She is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her picture books include Oh My Baby, Little One, illustrated by Jane Dyer, and the Bubba and Beau series, illustrated by Arthur Howard. Her novels for older readers include two National Book Award finalists: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and The Underneath, which was also a Newbery Honor Book. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. For more information, download a free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guide or visit Kathi’s website.
Follow sweet Cardell on all of the tour stops!
Mon, Jan 5
5 Minutes for Books
Tues, Jan 6
Cracking the Cover
Wed, Jan 7
Thurs, Jan 8
Fri, Jan 9
Once Upon a Story
Sat, Jan 10
Mon, Jan 12
Tues, Jan 13
The Late Bloomer's Book Blog AND NC Teacher Stuff
|Wed, Jan 14|
Teach Mentor Texts
Kid Lit Frenzy
The Fourth Musketeer
Bonus! Find a full-color door hanger and other fun downloadables at:
Be sure to enter the giveaway below!
Title: When Otis Courted Mama
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: Jill McElmurry
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 6th, 2015
Genre/Format: Fiction/Picture Book
GoodReads Summary: Apart from sticker burrs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful. He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy. They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay—Cardell is mostly used to it. Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a grrr form in his throat. Otis can’t make jalapeño flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy. And so Cardell waits for Mama to say "Adiós, Otis." But what will happen if she doesn’t?
What I Think: It can't be easy having parents in separate houses but it's even harder to know that Mama might have another man in her life. I love how Cardell is able to recognize that he's loved by both parents even though they aren't married any more. I also love how Cardell struggles to get used to a new suitor for Mama but that he finds there is enough room in his heart and hers for another family member. This book is great because it's a sort of modern folk tale. It would be great to have discussions with students about what they notice about this story and how it does compare and contrast with traditional folk tales. There are definitely elements of folk literature to be recognized but differences as well.
Read Together: K - 3
Read Alone: K - 4
Read With: Always Mom, Forever Dad by Joanna Rowland, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Snatch of Text:
"Best of all, when his perfectly good
daddy howled, the stars shimmered and
the moon beamed. Cardell felt loved
through and through."
"Best of all, when his perfectly good
mama smiled, the moon, the stars, even the
planets glowed. Cardell felt warm and safe."Writing Prompts: Write about people or places or things that make you feel loved like Cardell.
Topics Covered: Family, Love, Change
*Thanks to Blue Slip Media for
a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review
and the opportunity to offer this giveaway!*