Otto: The Boy Who Loved Cars


Otto loves cars more than anything else in the world. He plays with cars, he dreams about cars, . . . he even eats cars (his favorite cereal is Wheelies). But that all changes when he awakes one morning to find that he has somehow turned into a car.Otto soon realizes that there is a downside to actually becoming his favorite thing. While the rest of his friends get to play and draw, Otto can only honk and sputter. Will Otto ever be able to switch gears and go back to being a ...

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Otto loves cars more than anything else in the world. He plays with cars, he dreams about cars, . . . he even eats cars (his favorite cereal is Wheelies). But that all changes when he awakes one morning to find that he has somehow turned into a car.Otto soon realizes that there is a downside to actually becoming his favorite thing. While the rest of his friends get to play and draw, Otto can only honk and sputter. Will Otto ever be able to switch gears and go back to being a boy?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With his homonymic name, Otto might be forgiven for loving autos "above all places and things (and even most people)." More than his one-track racetrack mind, Otto's flaw is his self-centeredness. In his rush to his race car–festooned bedroom, he does not return his mother's hug, and at recess, he will play only car-themed games with his friends Chevy, Mini, and Kia. Despite his mother's admonition that "Everyone has to shift gears sometime," Otto remains unconvinced until he wakes up as a sporty red convertible. Nobody notices the change, yet he can only "honk" and "vroom." He drives to school amid traffic fumes, plays alone, and has to skip lunch. Back home, he sadly "ran out of gas and went to sleep." LaReau and Magoon (who previously collaborated on Ugly Fish) take aim at children focused on material goods (or other obsessions) over relationships; an undersize typeface and long explanations suggest this warning proved hard to distill. Overnight, Otto transforms into a considerate and grateful boy, providing a wishful, Pinocchio-like conclusion but minimal practical advice. Ages 2–6. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“Car lovers in particular will enjoy Otto’s tale, but any kid who has ever dreamed of being something else will find lots of heart and humor in Otto’s story of new perspective.” —BCCB


"An unexpected ending wraps up this story beautifully, providing opportunity for discussion of this multithemed gem.... A winner, whether sharing with a group or in a one-on-one setting" —SLJ


“Otto, as is only fitting, is in love with autos.” –Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
Otto's love for cars is evident when he steps into his room. His bed is in the shape of a racing car; he has several collections of model cars; pictures of cars adorn his walls; and toy cars clutter his floor. Otto's favorite cereal is called Wheelies. He ignores his classmates and plays with toy autos during recesses. One morning Otto wakes up and discovers that he has become a car. He can't eat his Wheelies for breakfast; he has to drive himself to school in heavy traffic; and he races around the edge of the playground for recess. Otto is having a miserable day, but his troubles are magnified because no one notices he is a car. They treat him the same way as usual. Otto goes to his room and, in his frustration, begins to cry. His mom comes in to comfort him and suggests that he needs to switch gears. Otto cries until he runs out of gas and falls asleep. The next morning he is delighted to wake up as a boy again. He eats an English muffin for breakfast; he plays with his classmates during recess; and at bedtime, he tells his mom a story about a boy who turned into a car. Colorful illustrations cover the pages providing numerous details about Otto's obsession. A fun story with an obvious message. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—A dapper, redheaded boy loves cars so much that he wakes up one morning to find that he has become one. But not just any car-he's a flashy, red sports car. During the day he learns that his new form definitely isn't what it's cracked up to be. He can't eat his wheelie cereal for breakfast. Auto/Otto can't fit on the bus and has to drive himself to school. He becomes frustrated while stuck in miserable traffic and is late. At recess, no playground for him. His only option is to drive laps around it. Bedtime finally arrives and a doleful Otto listens to his mom: "Everyone has to switch gears sometime." Otto wakes up a changed boy and is open to new experiences. An unexpected ending wraps up this story beautifully, providing opportunity for discussion of this multithemed gem. Magoon sets the mood on the end pages with Otto driving a sports car. The digital illustrations are saturated with bold colors and pop off the page. Body language and facial expressions are priceless, and there are many delightful details for readers to pore over. LaReau cleverly sprinkles car speak throughout the story. Otto's mother calls him "my little speedster." His friends are named Chevy, Mini, and Kia, and his teacher Mrs. Dodge. A winner, whether sharing with a group or in a one-on-one setting.—Anne Beier, Clifton Public Library, NJ
Kirkus Reviews

Otto, as is only fitting, is in love with autos—obnoxiously so.

He's even a little bullying about the topic. No food unless it can be referenced to cars, no playing in the school playground unless is has to do with cars. As for a bedtime story: "I don't want to hear it unless it's about cars." So the next morning Otto wakens as an auto. Or at least in his mind's eye; everyone else sees him as Otto, though the strange honking and vroom noises he is making have them wondering. When he can't grab his cereal, he honks at his mother, who tells him that "This is a kitchen, not a garage." No breakfast, buddy. No one wants to play car at school, so he's left to drive in circles. On it goes until he has what all cars have: a breakdown—sputtery-sputtery-sput. At bedtime, Otto's mother suggests that "everyone has to switch gears sometime." LaReau plays the obsessive card closely and well: Otto is selfish in his obsession, but, on a note of hope, he is capable of change when the time is right. It helps that Magoon's elastic, cartoony artwork can easily shift from little devil to little boy in a flash.

Maybe monomaniacal preschool readers will take the hint, too. (Picture book. 2-6)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596434844
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Publication date: 6/21/2011
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 698,858
  • Age range: 2 - 5 Years
  • Lexile: AD660L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.12 (w) x 10.26 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Respected editor Kara LaReau now runs an editorial consulting company called Bluebird Works. She collaborated with her sister Jenna on Rocko and Spanky Go to a Party and Rocko and Spanky Have Company, and with Scott Magoon on Ugly Fish and Rabbit and Squirrel. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and their two cats.


While moonlighting as a designer at a major children's publishing house, Scott Magoon has illustrated many successful books including Spoon by Amy Krause Rosenthal and the aforementioned Ugly Fish and Rabbit and Squirrel. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons.

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Read an Excerpt


There was once a boy named Otto.

He had a very smart, patient teacher and good friends.

Otto lived in a nice house with his mother, who loved him very much.


But above all places and things (and even most people),


Otto loved cars.

Each morning, Otto would wake up and eat his favorite cereal.

He'd play with his cars all the way to school — and when he got there, he couldn't wait for recess, where he would insist on playing Race Around the Playground with his friends, Chevy, Mini, and Kia.




One night, after playing with cars, and drawing some cars, and reading about cars, Otto put on his pajamas and got into bed.



His mother came to tuck him in.


"Time for a new story?" she asked.


"I don't want to hear it unless it's about cars," said Otto.


His mother sighed.


"Ah, well, my little speedster," she said, kissing the top of his head, "you don't know what you're missing."

Then she turned out the light and closed the door—leaving Otto to count Jeeps until he fell asleep.

The next morning, when Otto woke up, he just didn't feel like himself. And with good reason.



Unfortunately for Otto, no one else seemed to notice the difference. When he opened his mouth to say, "Pass the Wheelies" at the breakfast table, he made a noise that sounded like this:




"This is a kitchen, not a garage," Otto's mother said. So Otto didn't get to eat his favorite cereal.


And he couldn't fit on the school bus, so, of course, he had to drive himself to school.


And traffic was terrible that morning, so Otto was very late ...which made Mrs. Dodge, his teacher, very angry. Otto tried to explain, but instead he sounded like this:



So he was not only very late, but very LOUD, which made Mrs. Dodge even angrier.


Otto spent his morning parked in the Time-Out Corner.

Otto had forgotten his lunch (and couldn't have eaten it anyway, since a car can't eat), so he idled by the window and looked forward to recess, his favorite part of the day.





Finally, Mrs. Dodge took the class out to the playground. "Let's play!" Otto shouted to Chevy and Mini and Kia, but it sounded like this:



"Geez, Otto," Chevy said. "You want to play Race Around the Playground again?"


"That's all he ever wants to do," said Mini.

"Let's swing on the monkey bars!" said Kia.

After school, it took Otto forever to get home (traffic again), and when he finally did he was miserable.


He knew he couldn't eat whatever his mother made for dinner, so he went to bed very, very, very hungry.


He didn't play or draw or read, because cars can't do any of those things.


So Otto started to cry.


Of course, it didn't sound like crying. It sounded like this:


Which is what cars sound like when they are broken-down or running out of gas, and Otto was both.





His mother couldn't help overhearing the noise.


"What's the matter?" she said. "You haven't been yourself all day."


"I'm sick of cars," Otto honked softly into his pillow. "I just want to be a boy again."



"You've been living and breathing one thing for too long," she said.


"Everyone has to switch gears sometime."


Then she kissed his hood and turned out the light.


"Sleep tight," she said, closing the door, "and don't let the spark plugs bite."


Otto laid awake for a long time, sniffling and sputtering and thinking about what his mother said, until, finally, he ran out of gas and went to sleep.



The next morning, when Otto woke up, he wasn't a car. Instead, somehow, he was himself again. And he made sure to enjoy the difference.



When he got to the breakfast table, Otto's mother started to pour his bowl of Wheelies.



"Thank you," said Otto, kissing her on the cheek. "But I think I'll have an English muffin, please."


When he got to school (on time), Otto was on his very best behavior, much to Mrs. Dodge's delight.



At lunch, he savored every bite of his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.



And of course, Otto couldn't wait for recess, to see Chevy and Mini and Kia and play some of their games, like Monkey Bar Swing-a-Long, and Simon Says, and Tag (which was a lot like racing, with just a few more rules, Otto thought).



That night, when his mother came to tuck him in, Otto was already in his bed, waiting patiently.



"I think it's time to switch gears," said Otto.


"It is?" said his mother.


"Yes," replied Otto. "I'm ready for a new story. And not one about cars."


"Really?" said his mother.


"Well," said Otto, "it's about one car who turns into a boy. And I'm going to tell it to you."



"I'm listening," said his mother.

So Otto began.

Text copyright © 2011 by Kara LaReau

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