Otis the tractor returns in a grim holiday story with odd allusions to the Nativity story. A horse on the farm is set to give birth on Christmas Eve, but when a “big snow” makes the roads impassible, Otis must save the day after the horse is found ailing (“We need Doc Baker out here tonight or we’ll lose ’em both,” says the farmer). Long’s illustrations are typically heroic as Otis attempts a risky midnight drive, but adults and children alike may be perplexed by the glow emanating from the barn when the foal is born, the star marking on its forehead, and the news that “people from all around the valley came... to get a glimpse of the Christmas foal.” Ages 3–7. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)
K-Gr 3—Otis is back, this time anticipating Christmas and the birth of a new foal. To add to his excitement, he receives a new horn, his first Christmas present ever. His joy is short-lived, however, when, in the middle of a snowy night, he overhears that the mare is sick: "We need Doc Baker out here tonight or we'll lose 'em both!" When the farmhand sent to get Doc plunges into a snowdrift during the raging storm, Otis, as always, comes to the rescue, setting out "with snow up to his chin." He gets lost in the woods only to discover that he is perched on the precipice of a hill. Bravely heading down a steep, slippery branch, he reaches the doctor's house, alerts him with his horn, and brings him back to save the day. The grayish-blue hues that predominate in Long's lovely, large-framed illustrations create a sense of cold stillness. Executed in gouache and pencil, they depict the red tractor in sharp contrast to countryside and woods blanketed in deep snow. There are few surprises here, and the tree branch jutting from the hill seems forced. Traveling down the branch leads Otis a bit too conveniently almost to Doc Baker's door. Otis's fans may turn to this one, but it is an additional purchase.—Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT
As the title indicates, the little tractor Otis celebrates Christmas. Christmas is always exciting, but this one is "even more special," as a baby foal is due. That snowy Christmas Eve is made more thrilling yet when the farmer gives Otis his very first Christmas present: a new horn. Otis can barely contain himself. But in the middle of the night, he awakes to hear the sounds of consternation in the pregnant mare's stall: "Something [is] very wrong." Unfortunately, the snow is falling fast, and the stable hand sent to fetch Doc Baker promptly fishtails into a snowbank. It's Otis to the rescue again. Off he goes, "putt puff puttedy chuff," through the woods (where he is briefly lost) to Doc Baker's, where he uses his new horn to sound the alarm. Doctor and tractor make it back just in time. While Otis is a charming character, and the Christmas theme has great appeal, this is a rather lackluster outing for the sturdy tractor. Long's heroic art is at its best in scenes with people and animals, his Lawson-esque line investing characters with emotion and movement. The rendition of Otis' journey is rather less effective; only the most credulous of children will accept the sight of Otis inching his way down a massive, snow-covered tree trunk. The text likewise underwhelms, with its overreliance on exclamation points and treacly delivery. A rare miss for Long and Otis. (Picture book. 3-5)
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* "Otis the Tractor returns in a Christmas story of courage and friendship set in a terrible snowstorm at the farm. When the mare's labor becomes difficult on Christmas Eve, a vet is neededbut the truck is stuck in a snowdrift. Otis makes a brave decision: He'll get Doc. Plowing through the woods on a rescue mission, he finds himself on a difficult path. Long's text conveys not just the danger, "treacherous, slippery," but also Otis' effort, "putt puff puttedy chuff." . . . The illustrations wonderfully enhance the story, from the joy of the animals prancing around the Christmas tree to Otis' expressive response to the events around him: pride in his gift, concern for his friend, determination to arrive at his destination. Highlighting the always-changing perspective, aerial scenes give readers a sense of the big, snowy picture. Long's palette reflects the coldness and heaviness of the snow, and then lightness as the farmer prays for a miracle. The view into the barn door, once all is well, is reminiscent of another barn birth, and the text reads, "Well, would you look at that!" That sums things up nicely."Booklist, starred review