To continue our bimonthly theme, Books About Books and the River of Words, I’m going to share with you today a picture book I intentionally bought for said theme. About a couple of weeks before the launch of our theme, I was at Barnes & Noble doing my usual book browsing. This was during the time when I bought Mo Willems’s We Are in a Book!
Katie Cleminson’s Otto the Book Bear was sitting on the same display counter as We Are in a Book! along with a few other ‘books about books.’ It made me wonder if anything special was going on that day. I figured it must just have been because it was back to school for the kids. I bought the book a week later, but didn’t have a chance to read it until a few days before the launch of our bimonthly theme.
The “Toy Story” Effect: When Characters Come to Life
The story opens up with a classic “Once upon a time…” and readers are immediately transported to a world of magic, or at least it gives them that feeling. Readers soon learn that this is actually the opening line of a book that features a bear named Otto. But Otto is unlike any bear. Otto is a book bear! And Otto has a secret. When no one is around, he comes to life!
Otto loved to explore the house, to read his favorite stories, and practice his writing.
As noted above, Otto the Book Bear was published by Hyperion Books, an imprint of the Disney Book Group. Disney-Pixar was the genius behind its first feature length animated film that made use of computer-generated imaging. I’m talking about Toy Story, of course, a film about toys coming to life. Hence, Otto the Book Bear has the “Toy Story Effect,” as it follows a similar story layout.
Books with elements of magic, specifically those that pertain to something having a life of its own, help foster a child’s imagination. Reading Katie Cleminson’s picture book made me start thinking about the book characters in my shelf. Because I work the graveyard shift, I would like to think that it is the ideal time for those characters to spring to life. With so many books I have, my entire apartment would be crammed with an interesting mix of characters, both fiction and non-fiction. This can actually be part of a classroom activity and book discussion. Parents and teachers may ask their kids what kind of book characters would come to life based on their own bookshelf or, simply, what kind of characters they picture coming to life in their rooms when they are not looking.
A Celebration of Books and Reading
I bought Otto the Book Bear without any idea just how closely tied-in Otto’s story is with Gerald and Piggie’s in We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems. Both books celebrate the joy of reading – and of being read! Otto was at his happiest when children read his book. I think Otto speaks for all books. I’m sure they all feel the same way when children – even grownups – pick up their books from the shelf and read.
Another nice thing about this delightful picture book is how it pays homage to libraries. When something terrible happens to Otto one day, he decides to set off on the biggest adventure of his life yet. In his wanderings, he stumbles upon the local library where he meets another book bear, among many other characters. It is in this library that Otto makes himself at home. There are more books to read, more characters to meet, and, most importantly, more children to read his books!
Otto and the Nature of Bears
With its minimal text and big and bright ink illustrations, Otto the Book Bear is perfect for the little readers. Katie Cleminson’s bear is mild-mannered, cute, and adorable in nature. There is something magical about bears that draw children to them. Bears have been widely used in a lot of children’s stories like Robert Southey’s classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears, and Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? among countless others. Ask children to name other books or stories that they know featuring bears. In addition to these “bear stories,” the teddy bear is the most popular form of stuffed toy. The big and fluffy stuffed bears are simply irresistible. Besides, who says no to a bear-hug?
If you’re looking for a fresh picture book to read to your children, I recommend the story of Otto the Book Bear. It is not only filled with magic and twists but it also fosters in them imagination and the simple joy of reading.