‘Otis’ author Kathi Appelt inspired by stepfather


Kathi Appelt photoThe idea of a “traditional” family isn’t so traditional anymore. Families have become whatever works best for each individual unit. One group that is often underrepresented is stepparents. Author Kathi Appelt aims to rectify that in her new book, “When Otis Courted Mama.”

“When Otis Courted Mama” is the story of Cardell, a coyote whose life is mostly wonderful, except for sticker burrs and sand fleas. Cardell’s parents live in different parts of the desert, but he knows he’s loved, and he’s used to how things are. That all changes when Otis comes calling.

“I was working on a different project when I started thinking about my stepfather, George,” Kathi told Cracking the Cover. “The more I thought about him, the more I realized that for the most part, stepparents in children’s books typically show up as antagonists. While George wasn’t perfect, he was still a great stepfather. And I know that he’s not the only stepparent out there who did his best. I think parenting is hard, and stepparenting strikes me as being really hard. So, I wanted to write a story that featured a perfectly good stepparent. Not perfect, but perfectly good.”

Kathi’s book has a distinct Southwest feel. “I love the American southwest,” she said. “I think it’s mysterious, but above all it has a wonderful ‘vocabulary.’ The different flora and fauna have a terrific sound to them.”

And the use of coyotes instead of humans as main characters ties things all together. “I chose coyotes specifically because they’re scrappy. They’re not necessarily cute and fluffy. And I think families are rather like coyotes in that they too are probably more scrappy than they are cute and fluffy.”

WhenOtisCourtedMama coverAs is common with most picture books, Kathi didn’t collaborate on the illustrations.

“I always have a picture in my mind when I write, but I could never have imagined the wonder of Jill McElmurry’s art,” she said. “Her renderings of Cardell and the other coyotes, and the way she caught the essence of the desert far exceeded any of my visions.”

Kathi writes for young people for a number of reasons, but mostly she appreciated their curiosity. “Everything with young readers is new, so it’s a challenge for me to think of something new to give them. I love that.”

As the author of more than 40 books for children, Kathi sometimes looks back at her work and wonders where it came from. “Then I look forward and wonder what there is to say. But then something always shows up and it often surprises me. I never know, really, what a story is going to be until I get it down on the page. It’s always been that way. The mystery is that there is always another story to tell. Thank goodness.”

Kathi’s books are written for a variety of age groups, each one tailored to the audience Kathi is talking to. “I think each age has its own interests and its own wonders. I wouldn’t say that one is more difficult than another. In fact, I’ve always thought that toddlers and teenagers are quite a bit alike. They’re both yearning for independence, they’re both dealing with huge physical and intellectual growth, they’re both prone to big mood swings. So, I’m not convinced that they’re all that different. Then there’s that group right in the middle that is so golden, and so mellow compared to their younger and older siblings. But even they have their unique tendencies.”

Read the complete transcript of Kathi’s interview with Cracking the Cover.

Find a full-color door hanger and other fun downloadables at kathiappelt.com.

Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than 40 books for children and young adults. Her picture books include “Oh My Baby, Little One,” illustrated by Jane Dyer, and the Bubba and Beau series, illustrated by Arthur Howard. Her novels for older readers include two National Book Award finalists: “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” and “The Underneath,” which was also a Newbery Honor Book. She is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To download a free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guide, visit Kathi’s website at kathiappelt.com.

Visit these other sites for more about Cardell and Kathi Appelt:

Monday, Jan. 5 — 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, Jan. 6 — Cracking the Cover
Wednesday, Jan. 7 — Sharpread
Thursday, Jan. 8 — Unleashing Readers
Friday, Jan. 9 — Once Upon a Story
Saturday, Jan. 10 — Booking Mama
Monday, Jan. 12 — Geo Librarian
Tuesday, Jan. 13 — The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog and NC Teacher Stuff
Wednesday, Jan. 14 — Teach Mentor Texts
Thursday, Jan. 15 — Kid Lit Frenzy
Friday, Jan. 16 — The Fourth Musketeer

© 2015 – 2017, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided for free by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.


About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.


  1. I love hearing the inspiration behind an author’s work. Thanks for the review! I look forward to checking out the book with my kiddos.

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