So many books. So little time.
Don't we all love stories with a twist? And what fun if the twist comes early on—we think we know where the story is going and boom, it takes a completely different direction. Kathy Appelt starts the story with, what we realize later, a misdirection. "Before Otis, Cardell had a mostly wonderful life."
All right then. Otis, whoever he is, is the bad guy, because he ruined the wonderful life that Cardell had. "He had a perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy." Already we are starting to dislike Otis. How dare he come and disrupt a perfectly happy family? Cardell's perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy adored him. Stands to reason they adored each other too.
Perfectly good daddy did so many fun things with Cardell--cooking, playing, singing. Life was good. Wait a minute though. "The only problem was that Cardell's perfectly good daddy lived in a different part of the desert." What? Mama and Daddy lived apart? Yes, and when he went visiting his daddy he had to share time with his stepmama and stepbrother. When he lived with Mama, which was most of the time, "he had his perfectly good mama all to himself."
So the story problem is set up and defined. Cardell lives with mama--a champion scout and master artist, with a smile that makes even the planets glow."Yep, apart from a few sticker burrs and occasional sand fleas, Cardell's life was mostly wonderful." Into this steps Otis--not the first coyote to come romancing mama, mind. But, importantly, mama hadn't liked those who came before Otis. Otis was different. Cordell waited, and waited for mama to send him away too. "But adios Otis never came." Grr.
It never came because Otis was different. He cared. He made cactus pudding with Cardell. He showed Cardell what a terrific pouncer he was. You see, he cared for Cardell and mama, but in his own way. He was not there to replace perfectly good dad. One night mama and Otis and Cardell sat around the bonfire and Otis shared the funniest stories ever. As he left he shook paws with Cardell, coyote to coyote.
"A few moons later, Otis asked Mama to marry him." Now Cardell waits, along with Otis, eager for mama to say yes. Mama took her own sweet time replying. Finally she says it—"Yes". Yes! Besides his perfectly good family Cardell now has Otis. As the illustrations show. The first spread shows Cardell with perfectly good Mama and perfectly good Daddy. The almost last spread has Cardell with Mama and Otis. Followed by a picture of the blended family. The illustrations march hand in hand with the words, enhancing them: Cardell's eagerness, his boredom, his Grr! And always the desert in the background, faithfully depicted with browns and yellows and orange.
The story comes full circle, to a most satisfying ending. "And life? Sticker burrs and sand fleas aside, it was mostly wonderful."
As it is to the reader, a mostly wonderful book.