Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget
written by Bill Slavin
illustrated by Esperança Melo
Bill Slavin, who is best known for his children’s book series Stanley, teams up with Esperança Melo for his first graphic novel. In it we meet Otto, an elephant unable to forget his friend Georgie. They grew up together, and Georgie, a chimp, was captured by a man and presumably taken to America. Otto is moping over his loss when another friend, a bird named Crackers, suggests they go to America and get Georgie back. America can’t be that big, right?
The two animals journey the seas and enter America, where they’re in over their heads. Crackers is the more street-smart one, whereas Otto is loveable and dense. In this graphic novel, the animals are all anthropomorphized and can talk to one another, regardless of species, as well as talk to humans.
While trying to find Georgie, Otto and Crackers get involved with some bad guy alligators, as seen on the cover. Some people mistake Otto for a man—a really big man—a joke that works in children’s literature where you can use suspension of disbelief more. Another ongoing gag is the fact that, despite being an elephant, Otto is terribly allergic to peanuts. So much for the idea that elephants love peanuts.
By the end, Otto and Crackers do get a somewhat more specific clue about where Georgie might be, leaving it open for a continuing series.
The graphic novel is an all-around comedy, one children ought to enjoy. Its humor can be base, like bathroom humor, and I’m not saying that as a criticism, but a matter-of-fact statement. Otto’s misunderstandings of language and city life are often used as joking material, like when he’s told he needs to catch a cab to get somewhere. He literally goes out into the street and grabs a cab by the back. Then comes the problem of getting him in the cab, which has a silly image of this enormous elephant trying to squeeze himself in past the little door and getting stuck.
So the biggest appeal of Elephants Never Forget would be its humor, and the fact it has Stanley’s author behind it helps get it attention. Otto is a fun character, who, with his limitless ability to be confused and misunderstand, can be used for many such jokes. There’s some educational stuff in here—like talking briefly about how monkeys and chimps are different—but mostly it’s an entertainment read.