Otto’s Backwards Day
By Frank Cammuso, with Jay Lynch
TOON Books; $12.95
Everyone struggles with selfishness. At least, I imagine that all good people do and that anyone who doesn’t has probably just given in to it. Maybe it says more about me than about other people, but I have a hard time believing that anyone is just naturally selfless. For one thing, I’ve known too many kids.
Don’t get me wrong; I love kids. But paragons of putting other people first they are not, and so – like the rest of us – they sometimes need reminding that they’re not the only important person in the room. That’s why books like Otto’s Backwards Day are so welcome, especially when they’re as entertaining, adorable, and non-didactic as this one is.
I first came across Frank Cammuso’s work with his wonderful, not-quite-for-kids comic, Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective. It’s a noir detective series set in the land of fairy tales and Mother Goose with one of the three pigs as a detective. It’s great for older kids, but the mixing of children’s characters with booze and bullets may make parents think twice before pulling it out as bedtime reading. Otto’s Backwards Day reminds me of Max Hamm in its combination of cute art and engaging themes, but being published by TOON, it’s not only appropriate for younger readers, it’s primarily aimed at them. That it’s also a lot of fun for adults is a bonus.
Backwards Day continues the adventures of Otto the cat from Otto’s Orange Day and begins with Otto as excited for his birthday as any kid. But he goes too far for his parents when he wants to start celebrating a day early, without any guests. “Who needs family and friends when I have the important things?”—by which he means cake and presents. His father sternly informs Otto that he has things backwards, and Otto learns the truth of it when someone steals his party stuff and escapes into a neighboring professor’s lab and its gateway to the Backwards World.
With a shape-changing robot named Toot as an ally, Otto pursues the thief into the Backwards World to rescue his party and maybe learn a little about what’s really important. Keeping the adventure from becoming preachy are lots of gags like how the citizens of Backwards World leave litter on the ground and wear their underpants on the outside. Readers also learn about palindromes, with Toot pointing out that his and Otto’s names are examples, and that all of Toot’s shapes—like the race car and the kayak—are too. There’s a lot to keep readers engaged, and grown-ups will giggle as much as their kids.
And they may learn as much, too.