"Otto's wish had come true. No more rattle-swiping, birthday-wrecking baby sister. There was only one small problem ... Time kept going backwards! Otto was growing down." - Otto Grows Down by Michael Sussman
The birthday. The candles and cake. The WISH! Otto, on his sixth birthday, feels rather neglected. You see, one week earlier, he became a big brother. No longer the center of attention, Otto takes his birthday wish to heart and wishes his baby sister Anna was never born. In theory, you'd think a wish like that would set things like they were before. Not quite so, as Otto quickly learns. The wish makes time go backwards. Yes, Otto's parents take his sister back to the hospital. But backwards time doesn't stop there. Time continues to go in reverse. Otto, to his dismay, grows younger, smaller and more frantic as each former birthday passes and he desperately tries to set things right.
Some picture books are pure fluff. This book is not and that is a good thing. Otto Grows Down, the fascinating and funny children's book by Michael Sussman stretches the imagination. I can guarantee Sussman's book will make children think, particularly about jealousy and also the concept of time. Most kids with siblings will at some point develop feelings of resentment. Using humor, the book provides a good starting point for discussions with children about sibling rivalry. Otto feels awful about his wish and learns a valuable lesson, put best by the illustrator Magoon, "Otto grew up when he grew down."
Besides the sibling rivalry slant, the book is very clever in other ways as well. While talks about jealousy are helpful, my preschool daughter found the fantasy of time moving backwards most intriguing. Before reading the book to her, I must admit to wondering whether she would grasp the concept or get scared about time in reverse. After a little explanation she so totally got it and loved the pretend aspect. In fact, she wants to keep talking about time moving backwards. So much so, that we've read the book nearly every single day. Her favorite parts of the book include the illustration of the wristwatch hands going the wrong direction and the bathroom scene. (Fair warning, the book contains a small bit of potty humor, something that all children seem to love.) The other clever point? Teachers and parents should find this book quite useful in teaching about palindromes -- words or phrases that read the same way backward or forward. All the names of the characters in the book are palindromes: Otto, Anna, Bob, Mom and Dad.
Scott Magoon's mostly dark, cartoonish illustrations bring feeling to the story. His use of color helps display Otto's emotion, with muted blacks and grays showing his discontentedness and love inspired orangish-red when events turn around. On a sidenote, I personally think Otto has worse problems than the birth of his sibling, namely his father's choice in clothing. His father seems to make a habit out of wearing Hawaiian shirts, sometimes paired with cardigan sweaters and plaid pants. Talk about embarrassing. I know what I'd be wishing for on my next birthday if I were Otto.
Otto Grows Down by Michael Sussman, illustrated by Scott Magoon. Sterling (February 2009); 32 pages; ISBN 9781402747038Related links:
Michael Sussman - Author Website
Scott Magoon - Illustrator Website
AuthorsNow interview with Michael Sussman
Frolicking through Cyberspace interview with Michael Sussman
Cambridge Wickedlocal.com news piece on Otto Grows Down
BOOK IT! Interview with Scott Magoon
Teaching PreK-8 - Palindrome activities
Win a copy! Sterling Publishing has kindly offered to give one Brimful Curiosities reader a copy of Otto Grows Down.
To enter, leave a comment with letting me know why you'd like to own this book.
Additional entry! - Just for fun, visit Michael Sussman's website www.ottogrowsdown.com and let me know which palindrome is your favorite from his list (or make your own up).
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