Written by James Howe, Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Candlewick Press, 2012
The river sparkled the day Otter found love.
The plot in a nutshell: An otter falls in love with a fish.
Otter is looking for food when he meets Myrtle, a fish, and sees something special in her eyes. Myrtle is simply looking not to be eaten, but when she looks at him, she finds her heart stirring, too. They spend all their time together and would have simply lived happily ever after, but then they hear the talking from everyone else that their love is unnatural and impossible. Myrtle tells Otter that she doesn’t think they can be together, since otters are fish eaters. Sad and lonely, Otter swims down the river and meets his friend, Beaver, who offers him some birch bark and apple. Otter tells him that otters don’t eat those things and Beaver suggests that he could follow his heart instead of everyone else’s expectations. So Otter changes his diet and finds Myrtle so they can be together again. When the talking starts back up, Otter and Myrtle don’t listen because they are too busy living happily ever after.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opened this book, but it certainly wasn’t the intricate and thought-provoking story that I found. Author James Howe, best known for the Bunnicula series of books, covers quite a bit of ground in this star-crossed love story and opens the door for lots of interesting conversations. Although there are some grown-up issues going on here, I don’t feel that the plot aims too high for its audience. Kids who can grasp the concept of falling in love can also understand that it can be difficult when others feel you shouldn’t be with the one you love. Sure, it’s unlikely that they will ever fall in love with their food source, but there are lots of parallels out there in the murky waters of human relationships, too.
Chris Raschka’s watercolor and pencil artwork resembles the crayon drawings of a child, which also contributes to making the story accessible to kids. Although they’re simple in appearance, they convey a lot of complex emotions, which seems harder to do with fewer details in the drawings. I love the fact that the illustrations are loaded with patches of color and lots of extraneous items, such as other fish and plants, but your eyes are always drawn to the main characters. I really loved this book and its presentation of love.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that your heart usually knows what it’s doing when it comes to love.