KN: Thanks so much for letting me interview you. I love the fact that the main character of this book, Otis, is a tractor. On your website there’s a great video of you riding a tractor. As a child, did you have a special attachment to a tractor or long to read a book about a tractor?
LL: Of course as a little boy, anything that has wheels and moves is attractive...tricycle, bicycle, skateboard, roller skates, motorcycle, go cart, cars, trucks, planes and yes... tractors. I've always liked tractors...especially the old ones that just seem like a large farm animal in a way. A tractor's shape is different than a truck or a car. It is slim and other than it's wheels, it stands there like a metal horse. And I like to think of them as dinosaurs roaming the farm. Ancient in a way (at least the old ones) but these "dinosaurs" have never really become extinct. A great number of the old tractors are still useful to the farmer and still have a place as a viable farm implement. I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky surrounded by beautiful horse farms. I never lived on a farm but I worked on a horse farm during the summers while going to college in Lexington and the University of Kentucky. It was then while working on the horse farm as a college kid, that I got to drive a tractor for the first time. And it was one of the old ones that they just used to pull wagons from here to there or to pull a wagon while we were bailing hay.
Certainly, all of the above, inspired and informed my interest in creating Otis.
KN: The primary colors pop out of the monochromatic background. Why did you choose red for Otis instead of yellow or blue?
LL: I ended up using red for Otis after experimenting with a combination of many other colors. I don't always go to this extreme while planning my artwork, but for a character like Otis, I knew his colors would be very important to his overall personality. I tried a lot of colors that I felt had a vintage feel...like a light pale blue or a light aquamarine bluish green color. I tried all cream and all red and then I thought the two toned solution looked neat (sometimes it comes down to what simply looks "neat"). I wanted Otis to have an identity all his own so I tried to keep him different and unique from tractors of today.
KN: The tender friendship between Otis and The Little Calf makes this book a joy to read, yet both characters are at different stages in their lives. Is the friendship in the book inspired by a personal relationship?
LL: I wanted to focus on that tender friendship between the two characters but did not specifically attempt to make a statement about age or even gender. The theme of age is apparent as Otis gets replaced by a newer, larger tractor. Otis proves his value in many different ways...not only as a worker on the farm but as a valued friend to the farm in general and especially to that little calf, who does not care if Otis is a tractor or a different species of any kind. Otis is a warm, unassuming friend.
KN: The whimsical scenes of Otis and The Little Calf are not only fun, they foreshadow the solution to the problem. Did you know from the beginning how Otis would solve the problem or did the solution become obvious as the story moved along?
LL: Thanks, those scenes are certainly meant for fun. And they also help to establish the friendship and bond between Otis and the little calf. And yes, they set up the unique way Otis saves the day. I did not know how Otis would solve the problem until I got into writing the story and it became evident to me that I needed that unique solution to set Otis apart as the hero. It was at that point, that I added the "ring-around-the rosie" game.
KN: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
LL: I'd like everyone to notice that Otis is a friendly tractor to everyone. He likes to play...but he also likes to work!
KN: Thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it.
LL: Thank you. All the best.
KN: Teachers check out Loren Long’s website at www.lorenlong.com for great OTIS worksheets.