otto and pio

Monday, July 22, 2019 |
On occasion, I’ll put the picture books I’m planning to read out on a communal table by my desk at work (mostly to remind and/or guilt myself into finally reading them!). When I had Marianne Dubuc's picture book Otto and Pio out for a day, three different visitors asked me “What’s the white thing?? [referring to Pio]” That’s a recurring question in this story as well – what IS Pio, and how did he arrive outside Otto’s house? In trying to unravel the mystery, these two unlikely companions learn to value each other – and their story makes for a delightful bedtime (or anytime) read.

otto and pio by marianne dubuc book cover
Otto the squirrel is perfectly content living by himself in his treehouse in the forest, when a small creature, Pio, arrives on his doorstep, looking for his mother, and Otto invites him in. Pio eats all the hazelnuts, takes up the entire bed, and just gets bigger and bigger! Though Otto worries he may not be very good at caring for a little creature, Pio is very happy. Otto and Pio is a heartwarming tale about finding love and family when it is expected least and needed most.

One day, Otto the squirrel finds a spiky green ball outside his front door. He doesn’t worry about it, because he isn’t the curious type. But when it hatches a furry white creature who calls him “Mommy!” – well! That’s another story. In their quest to find out who Pio is, and where his Mommy is, Otto and Pio begin to value each other and learn the meaning of found family.

Dubuc’s sweet meditation on belonging and family hits some hilarious notes along the way – slapstick as Pio grows too big for Otto’s house, for one! It’s also got the slightly meandering, just-repetitive-enough style that is perfect for bedtime, and reminds me of classics like Are You My Mother? and Am I Yours? There’s the mystery element of: What is Pio?? But there are also warm, homey moments, and lots of hazelnut-munching and hammock-sleeping. In the end, Otto and Pio decide to be each other’s’ family, and that’s about a heart-warming as it gets. For the record, I did not expect to like a book about an uncurious squirrel and a maybe-a-yeti this much. It’s fun.

Now, the art! The watercolor and colored pencil drawings are done in a simple style, in a limited setting – the enormous tree where Otto lives (and his doorstep), and the inside of his home. The illustrations progress sequentially, and fairly literally – perspective does not alter much except to pan out and in. This will appeal to children during one-on-one storytime or bedtime as they can follow along frame-by-frame.

In all, Otto and Pio is a loveable, longer picture book perfect for kids with generous attention spans and for bedtime read-alouds.

Recommended for: one-on-one reading for children ages 5 and up, and readers any age who enjoy forest friends, light mysteries, and funny antics in picture book form.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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