Otis & Peanut by Naseem Hrab & Kelly Collier

This heartwarming children’s book is being marketed as a graphic novel but feels very much like a picture book to me. That said, both formats are good? Especially when the story and art are both so strong.

Our title characters are best friends. Otis is a long-haired guinea pig while Peanut is a naked mole rat. Over the course of the three stories collected here, the besties face a number of surprisingly complex challenges together, and deal with them sensitively and with a load of heart. Best of all, the situations they face are not uncommon for any young reader, and help set a template for how to grapple with each circumstance.

In the first and perhaps silliest of the stories, Otis needs a haircut but is afraid it will hurt. Peanut would like a haircut but doesn’t have any hair, so the two decide that a wardrobe update might help Peanut with a well-needed change.

In the second story, The Swing, our friends talk about how much Otis misses Pearl. The circumstances of why Pearl is gone are never discussed, but the friends talk about how hard it is to miss someone while also having happy memories of them.

The last story, The House, is a thoughtful look at what makes a house a home. And then be still my heart: a recipe for baked potatoes! (pictures after the jump)

Never one to shy away from a new recipe, I decided to try out the very kid-friendly recipe for Peanut’s Perfect Baked Potatoes For Two. It’s simple, but I did have to consult with the Bon Appetit website to make sure I was doing it right when the potatoes still felt firm after forty-five minutes of baking. One tip for those doing this at home: at the point where the recipe asks you to gently squeeze the potatoes for doneness, they should yield softly to the pressure. Let them keep baking at 350F in ten minute increments until that happens! I used a pair of tongs for this so as not to singe my fingers, and to take the potatoes out of and replace them in the oven.

I was also very generous with the olive oil and garlic salt when first coating the potatoes for baking. As a precautionary measure, I decided to place some foil under the baking potatoes on the rack, which definitely caught a bit of the oil from dripping onto the bottom of the stove. My generosity with the oil and salt also made it so I didn’t have to add any extra salt at the end, after fluffing up the delicious insides. Just butter (and, as a personal preference, fresh cracked black pepper) made this a perfect meal for a potato-lover like myself. My husband added sour cream to his. My kids did not partake, tho two of them took almost as great a pleasure from helping me poke the potatoes (above) as I did from eating the final result (below.)

Naseem Hrab writes the recipe with as much charm and verve as the rest of this thoughtful book, that goes where few general interest picture books tend to venture. Her words are accompanied by Kelly Collier’s engaging, expressive art and bold, minimalist color palette. Ms Collier’s illustrations are perfect for the story, conveying so much emotion and context without ever overwhelming the pages. This was a wholly satisfying book that invites kid and caretaker engagement with the content, while also providing a fun, if not outright nourishing activity for afterwards. Recommended, especially when dealing with similar complicated situations in a kid’s life.

Otis & Peanut by Naseem Hrab & Kelly Collier was published April 18 2023 by Owlkids and is available from all good booksellers, including

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