Fern and Otto: A Story About Two Best Friends by Stephanie Graegin

Fern and Otto: A Story About Two Best Friends by  Stephanie Graegin. Schwartz & Wade, 9780593121306, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  Although this intricately illustrated book looks like a bit of a throwback at first, I found I really enjoyed its self-referential humor and old-fashioned home-away-home adventure. Fern is a big brown bear with a pink ribbed sweater and Otto, her best friend, is a ginger tabby with a blue turtleneck and red boots. Fern’s the author/illustrator and is entertaining herself (and slightly boring Otto) with her tale of tuna on toast and naps. Come on, Otto says. Let’s go for a walk and find something exciting for you to write about. In their hike through the woods, they stumble across many unfolding adventures that Fern thinks look like good fiction fodder: a hare getting ready to race a tortoise, a little girl who invites them into a house for porridge, an evil wolf and a girl wearing a red hood. Otto keeps rejecting all of these situations in his quest to find something perfect. A chance encounter with a creepy witch sends them scurrying home and reminds the little cat that there’s a lot to be said for cozy. In the end, the book that Fern writes includes both the scary and the ordinary moments from their day and Otto loves it. In addition to having a sly sense of fun, Fern and Otto also celebrates the writer’s process as Fern observes, writes and revises. 

There’s so much to look at on every page of this book. Part of the fun is identifying all the fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters who are wandering around in the forest. I also loved the contrast between the characters’ talk bubbles (which tell most of the story) and the omnipotent narrator who occasionally drops in with some big news (“Fern and Otto have read enough books to know they do not ever want to be in the witch’s story.”). Graegin creates lush and atmospheric images with her fine pencil drawings, loaded with details and crosshatching. The pictures are digitally colored, but that does not detract at all from their lovely, handmade look. This fairyland is a diverse place, with all kinds of animals and human children in a range of skin tones: Hansel & Gretel have white skin, but Goldilocks has brown skin and wears her hair in two round puffs.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. Very sweet and would reward repeat readings.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fun as a read aloud for one-on-one or very small groups. The intricacies of the drawings require investigation, so not a book for library storytime.  With the emphasis on friendship and its charming illustrations, it reminded me of Holly Hobbie’s Toot and Puddle books.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 31, 2021

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Fairy tale, Friendship, Stephanie Graegin, Stephanie Graegin, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.