Loren Long creates a perfect book for the beginning of the school year with "Otis and the Scarecrow." It's not just that it's about the right time of year; it's that the book is perfect for classroom teachers everywhere to use in a discussion about friendship, kindness and compassion.
The story is simple. The farmer makes a scarecrow to scare away the crows from his cornfield. The scarecrow looks menacing, and when Otis and the farm animals try to befriend the scarecrow, it never smiles or acknowledges them in any manner. Finally, they turn away and ignore the scarecrow.
The animals love the fall season, and the reader watches them play all their games, all the different animals gaily interacting with Otis: the bull, the horse, the goat, the ducks and the puppy. During a cold, wet rainstorm, Otis is snuggled under an apple tree with all his friends, cozy together in their warm feeling of closeness.
Otis notices the scarecrow, all alone in the field with the rain pouring down on him. Otis leaves his friends and goes to keep the scarecrow company. Slowly, the other animals join him.
Every school has at least one student who feels like an outsider. During a discussion on bullying with some 5th graders last week, one boy broke down in tears talking about how last year, when he was in 4th grade, some 5th graders grabbed his school picture and taunted him about being ugly. We discussed how friends don't let friends be bullied.
"Otis and the Scarecrow" isn't so much about overt bullying, but about noticing the child (or person) who is alone. The one who may not have any friends. Like the scarecrow, that person may not seem to want friends. Or is that person just too shy or insecure to reach out -- afraid of being rebuffed? Children may need to hear that like Otis, they can make a lonely person feel welcome and included. All it takes is one person. And that's an important message.
The illustrations are beautifully colored in soft muted oranges and browns -- perfect for autumn. Like all "Otis" books, the pages feel rich and smooth -- they are shiny and heavy. It's actually a rich experience to turn the pages.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Philomel, for review purposes.
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