Friday, February 24, 2012

Otto the Book Bear

Written & illustrated by Katie Cleminson
$16.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages

Suppose a bear from a book got separated from his story and began exploring city streets for a place to belong. Would he ever find a story to be part of again?

In this gentle, imaginative picture book by the author-illustrator of Magic Box, a character named Otto wanders off the pages of his book to explore his child's house, but when he returns the child's family has packed up and moved. Now, he must brave the real world for companionship, only the real world is vastly bigger than the setting of his book.

Otto, an easy-going brown bear with charming saggy skin, never saw the moving trucks coming. Slipping out of his book was something he'd done time and again. But of course no one knew Otto could do such things, not even his child, so no one in the family thought to look for him before they left.

Each day when Otto went to explore, he'd heave himself up stairs that stood before him like terraces on a mountain. Though a big, strapping bear on the page, he was just a tiny bear in the real world, shorter than the height of a page. He'd open his favorite books with maps inside and sit on the pages as he read them. He'd even sit on the space bar of an old typewriter and push his weight on keys to journal what he saw.

But one day when he was done exploring, he turned around to find nothing left in the house but a few packed up boxes. As he stood on a window sill, he watched a moving truck pull away with everything else, including the book where he was once a part of a story. He couldn't imagine being without his story; nothing made him happier than to have children read about his adventures. What was he to do?

Being a daring sort of fellow and not at all fond of the idea of living by himself, he decided right there to draw up a plan for leaving, penciling out a map of the house and yard on a square of paper about his height. Then he packed a messenger bag and leaped from an open window to the world outside. He was off on a new adventure. It couldn't be that different than exploring a house, could it?

But out there everything was much bigger than the world in his book and soon Otto felt even more alone. He was as tiny as the shoes shuffling across the crosswalk, and he was getting wet and chilled. None of the creatures he passed seemed to want anything to do with him. Being the size of real-life mouse, he found cats to be especially unwelcoming. They didn't pounce on him, but they dismissed him with a wave of their paws.

Ah, to be inside his warm book again with other characters, Otto thought, while taking shelter inside a wind-blown coffee cup. With each step he felt more glum. But Otto kept walking because there was nothing much else to do and a lucky thing he did. Because soon he came upon a grand set of concrete stairs leading up to a stone building lit brightly from within. Soft, yellow light poured out from a grand door framed by pillars, drawing him in.

As he walked inside, Otto saw the most wondrous site: shelves of books rising so high he had to crane his neck to see to the top. It was a library, a world in itself for characters like him. Instinctively, he began to climb, just wanting to be closer to the stories, when he saw a little drawing perched on the end of shelf. Could it be? Another book creature just like him?

This enchanting book will take hold of young readers' imaginations and have them day dreaming of their favorite characters coming to life and skirting about their own book shelves. Perhaps they might even crack a book to their favorite character and position a dollhouse tea set nearby just in case.

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