Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget #1 (2011), by Bill Slavin with Esperança Melo

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 17.2.

Big City Otto

Big City Otto’s plot—the Babar-like migration of the large, rural elephant to the urban jungle—is not original, but the lack of originality is easily balanced by Bill Slavin’s fabulous drawing.  The emotion he brings to his characters through line and shading rivals the best of graphic novelists. Add to this an elephant with an allergy to peanuts, with a simple outlook on life that repeatedly misses the nuances of urban life and language, and you should have a recipe for success.
The narration of Big City Otto unfortunately does not rise to the level of the illustrations. The syntax and sentence structure are stilted and over-simplistic, leaving the reader to wonder who the target audience is.  My own child noted that the content and story were perfect for grades 2 or 3; but are grade 2 and 3 students able to read sufficiently independently to handle the graphic novel format and small, hand-written type? The sophistication of the drawings leave me wanting the authors to have invested more effort in constructing a narrative that is correspondingly interesting.


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