Otis and the Scarecrow

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Otis and the Scarecrow Book Poster Image
Tractor reaches out to silent friend in tale of empathy.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shows kids how a farm looks different in summer and autumn and shows what farmers use scarecrows for.

Positive Messages

Reach out to others, even if they don't seem responsive. Have empathy for people who seem lonely or are simply different from you. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Otis is unfailingly kind, thoughtful, sensitive, positive, empathic, and a good leader. All the other farm animals are friendly and fun-loving and take Otis' lead.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Loren Long's Otis and the Scarecow, the fifth in the bestselling picture book series about Otis the tractor, is a low-key story that emphasizes empathy for an outsider. It's unusual in that one of the main characters, the inanimate scarecrow, doesn't speak and maintains a fixed expression. But friendly tractor Otis sill wants to reach out to him and let him know he's part of the farm family.

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What's the story?

During the summer a new member of the farm shows up: It's a scarecrow who stands alone in the field and scares the crows away. Friendly tractor Otis and later his barnyard animal pals try to welcome him. But the scarecrow doesn't smile or say hello. By autumn, the scarecrow still keeps to himself as Otis and friends gather at the big apple tree and play the quiet game; whoever can outlast the others before cracking up or making a sound wins. One day, it stars to rain, and Otis thinks "about how the scarecrow must feel" being all alone among the pumpkins, and he chugs over to join him, then sits with him silently. The animals follow and are silent, too, until they can't be still any longer and start "giggling, quaking, and laughing." Otis thinks the scarecrow "didn't look so lonely anymore, surrounded by friends."

Is it any good?

OTIS AND THE SCARECROW is a quiet, gentle story, beautifully illustrated in gouache and pencil, with autumn scenes full of pumpkins and cornstalks in a mainly orange, tan, black, and white palette. Kids may learn empathy from watching a friendly Otis reach out to an outsider and may find something to relate to from their own classroom and playground experiences. But the subdued pace and lack of action may not be every kid's cup of tea.

Teachers could easily use this story to teach a lesson about empathy for those who, for whatever reason, are nonverbal or don't feel comfortable talking or joining in with the group. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about outsiders. Are there any kids in your class who stand apart? Do you think you could reach out to them and make them feel more a part of the class? 

  • How do you think Otis and the Scarecrow compares with other Otis books? Do you like it as much? How is it different? The same? 

  • When you see a kid being quiet outside of the main group, do you think he or she might be lonely? Do you ever think about what that person might be feeling? Do you find that easy or hard to do? 

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