An Otis Christmas

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
An Otis Christmas Book Poster Image
Tractor brings help to birthing horse in tense holiday tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Indicates that giving birth is sometimes difficult and you need to fetch the doctor. Shows that in winter storms, heavy snow can make roads impossible to use.

Positive Messages

When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Sometimes you have to step up when someone's in trouble and do what needs to be done to help out. Members of a family or community make sacrifices and take brave risks to help one another out. Family, friends, and a newborn are greater gifts than the shiniest Christmas present.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Otis is ever-helpful, self-sacrificing, and brave. The farmer is caring toward his animals and his tractor, Otis, even giving him a shiny new horn as a Christmas present. 

Violence & Scariness

Kids might not grasp the pain and possibly life-threatening situation the pregnant horse is in. But if they do, it coud be scary for them. The implication, stated in the text, is that the horse and her foal could die, and that fear may be too much for some preschoolers, who might relate it to a fear of their own mother dying.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that An Otis Christmas is the fourth picture book featuring the cheerful, helpful tractor. The plot involves a mother horse having trouble delivering her foal on Christmas Eve, and Otis overhears the farmer say, "We need Doc Baker out here tonight or we'll lose 'em both!" The horse is shown sick and lying down, with the farmer praying over her "for a miracle." Otis saves the day and brings the vet, and the foal emerges healthy. Still, images of a sick horse and the implication that a mother can die in childbirth could be disturbing for the intended preschool audience.

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What's the story?

Otis is ready to go to sleep in his stall in the barn on a cold Christmas Eve when he hears the farmer say that Mama horse is having a rough time giving birth: \"We need Doc Baker out here tonight or we'll lose 'em both!\" The farmer sends a farmhand to get the vet, but, when his truck slides down a hill and plunges into a snowdrift, Otis figures it's up to him to get through and get Doc. He takes a shortcut and makes it there, waking Doc up with the shiny new horn the farmer gave him as a Christmas present. They get back in time to save the day (or night, in this case).

Is it any good?

Otis fans will enjoy this tale because of Otis' eternal optimism and courage and author-illustrator Loren Long's dazzling illustrations, stark and dramatic in the wintery nighttime landscape.

Still, the logic in this story is not as airtight as in previous Otis outings. Would a tractor really drive down a perilous pine log? And will little kids grasp, relate to, or be scared by the horse's life-threateningly difficult labor? Many kids may find this a sweet, exciting story about the caring community of animals and humans that make up Otis' world. But some may find the health-crisis plot confusing or disturbing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about veterinarians. How are they different from the doctors that kids see? Have you ever taken a pet to be treated by a vet?

  • Have you read other Otis books? What's fun about a tractor character who helps his farm friends in a crisis? How does An Otis Christmas compare with other Otis stories? Is it as good? Why, or why not?

  • How does this story compare with other Christmas stories you know? What's your favorite Christmas story, book, movie, cartoon, or TV show?

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