Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Written and illustrated by Loren Long

Philomel Books, 2009

$17.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

When a loyal little farm tractor is pushed out of the barn to make room for a brawny new tractor, he must prove to himself and everyone else that he still has value in Loren Long's sweet tribute to old iron tractors that have been left outside to rust.

As the farm's only tractor, Otis delights in roaming the fields. By day he puts everything he has into plowing furrows, and by evening, he bounds over haystacks and plays ring-around-the-rosy with the ducks to the "putt puff puttedy chuff" of his engine. His happiness only grows when his farmer brings to the barn a jittery girl calf. That night the calf wails for her mother and Otis lulls her to sleep with the soft rumble of his engine. Soon the calf is following Otis everywhere he goes and Otis is happier than he's ever been.

Then one gray, rainy day, the farmer rolls a big new yellow tractor into his stall and decommissions Otis to the back of the barn. Otis' whole body slumps and he becomes so despondent that even the calf can't coax him to play. Weeds grow up around his tires and his headlight eyes close shut. The calf misses Otis and doesn't like the new tractor's deep rumbling snore. With no one to play with, she wanders off to the Mud Pond to cool off, but wades too far and gets stuck.

When the farmer discovers the calf neck-deep in mud, he shouts for his farm hands to get rope. But the harder they try to pull her out, the more she sinks. So the farmer calls in the big tractor, then the fire rescue truck, but they only scare the calf and cause her to sink deeper.

Suddenly a familiar "putt puff puttedy chuff" is heard over the hum of the crowd and Otis begins to circle the pond. The calf can't keep her eyes off him and begins to turn her body to follow him. Slowly, the mud loosens its hold and the calf stumbles out of the pond. Everyone shouts hooray to the resourceful tractor and the farmer realizes that even old machinery like Otis has a use on the farm.

Long's story has the simplicity and sincerity of early Little Golden Books, while his low-hue paintings, done in shades of gray with modest touches of color to make the characters pop, add to the retro feel. Like Marian Potter's The Little Red Caboose and Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could, the book has an endearing, sweet quality, much like the age group it targets, and transforms a machine into an anthropomorphic character. Don't be surprised if, after reading Otis, your child starts taking extra long glances out the car window, hoping to spot a tractor that needs saving.

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