Otto is a bear who lives in a book – a book bear – and nothing makes him happier than when people read his book. But he also has a secret: at night, he comes to life, and loves to explore the house and also work on his own stories. But one day, Otto’s book is left on the shelf as the family moves away and Otto must find a new home. And so he must set off on his biggest adventure yet; across the city he goes until he finds the best possible home for a book bear, a magical place full of wonderful and happy surprises for Otto … a library.
I had reviewed Katie’s first book Box of Tricks after going to a seminar led by her and her editor Helen McKenzie-Smith at the 2010 FCBG conference, and already then I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Otto.
I have always loved picture books which revolve around books, reading and libraries (I have a large collection of them!) and Otto the Book Bear certainly did not disappoint, and even exceeded all my expectations!
Otto the Book Bear is an ode not only to the power of stories and imagination, but to the importance of libraries. It is poignant not only because we witness gorgeous little Otto’s sorrow until he finds solace in the library, but also because to me it very much feels like a metaphor of how so many children feel about their libraries: a place of joy, but also a haven of peace and safety. I felt quite emotional looking at the last double-spread, which shows a beautiful depiction of the bliss of sharing stories, thinking of how it is now threatened, and some children will soon be denied that simple pleasure. I know my profession as a librarian (and unfortunately my personal experience of having the library I worked in closed), has made me acutely aware of this, but I still think Otto the Book Bear can be hailed as a wonderful example as to why libraries should be sacrosanct.
This is all beautifully supported by Katie’s artwork. Her signature bold black ink outlines in her illustrations and clever choice of colours add to the magical yet comforting feel of the story. Otto is utterly gorgeous, but I also really like the way Katie draws people; there is something quite peaceful about their demeanour, and in the crowd scene, some characters have a look that is almost of longing, which I guess is quite fitting. After all, they, like Otto, are probably looking for a peaceful haven.
One of the many strengths of the story in Otto the Book Bear is that it offers so much potential interaction with young readers. What were Otto’s adventures in his first book? Where do all the other characters come from (see illustration on the right)? Can readers spot some they might know (I think I can spot Alice, and Humpty Dumpty, and three blind mice!)? What about the others, what might their story be? Just as in Box of Tricks, Katie Cleminson celebrates and encourages children’s ability to find stories and adventures in the most unlikely places. There are so many stories untold in Otto the Book Bear, you could possibly spend hours working them out, and although I don’t like to think of books as “educational” tools, there is certainly a lot that a primary school teacher could do with it too.
Otto the Book Bear is a gorgeous book; with with a lovable central character, a heart-warming story and glorious illustrations, it is sure to become a family favourite. It is easy to see why Booktrust chose Katie Cleminson as one of their Best New Illustrators for 2011; her artistic flair and inspired storytelling make her a great ambassador for British picture book illustration.
All illustrations © Katie Cleminson
Many thanks to Random House Children’s Books for providing a review copy of “Otto the Book Bear”.