Kind-hearted tractor from Lexington teaches kids kindness, empathy in new Apple TV+ show
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - You’ll find Otis the Tractor on Long Hill Dairy Farm in the new Apple TV+ show “Get Rolling With Otis.”
The kind-hearted tractor has ties to Lexington and horse country.
WKYT sat down with Loren Long, the author and illustrator of Otis, to find out how the little tractor came to life to make an impact on children across the country.
The New York Times best-selling author-illustrator grew up in South Lexington near Clays Mills Elementary School.
Long told WKYT he didn’t dream of being an illustrator, and when he enrolled in college at the University of Kentucky he was still unsure.
“[I] majored in about five different things, like communications, to business, to architecture,” said Long.
While at UK, Long said he took just about every art class he could. That’s where he found his fit.
“Mr. Foose introduced me to the world of illustration,” said Long. “All of a sudden I started thinking, ‘Maybe that’s what I am. Maybe I’m naturally that, and maybe that’s a way I could make a career as an artist.”
After college, Long’s career took him to Gibson Greeting Cards in Cincinnati and closer to home. He then had calls to illustrate covers for big publications like Sports Illustrated, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few.
At age 39, Long said he worked on his first children’s book as an artist and his body of work has grown from there.
Long has illustrated President Barack Obama’s picture book “Of Thee I Sing,” the re-illustrated edition of “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper, “Mr. Peabody’s Apples.” by Madonna, and “Change Sings.” written by Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman. You can find a list of his work here.
Scroll down for an extended interview with Long on diversity and inclusion in children’s literature.
Eventually, he became an author with Otis.
The backdrop for the smiley-faced tractor with a big heart is a Lexington horse farm, built on memories from Long’s childhood and time working on Walnut Hall Stud Farm on Newtown Pike. The farmland would eventually be sold and turned into the Kentucky Horse Park.
“I didn’t know anything about horses and still don’t,” said Long. “You know, every day we would take wagons all over that farm. We pulled [equipment] with a little tractor and we would often take turns driving that tractor. It was an old Ford and it had a front end that looks a little bit like Otis.”
Long built his tractor from that memory but said he intentionally decided Otis would be unique.
He said the story of Otis is rooted in his family. Long said his wife would tell their two sons stories about a little tractor while they were heading to school. Long took the tales and turned them into a series where the tractor is more than just a machine for the farm.
“Otis has a big heart beating deep down inside of his engine, meaning he’s happy when his friends on the farm, the animals, are happy.”
That big heart is what shines through on “Get Rolling With Otis.” The Apple TV+ show teaches children to help others and be kind. Long told WKYT that’s what it’s all about.
“It’s important for me as the author of the books that we’re basing the show on that his heart comes through, his unselfishness comes through, his desire to think of others first comes through,” said Long.
“So that’s what the title of the show, ‘Get Rolling with Otis’ actually boils down to. He’s going to get rolling, to try and help his friends on the farm work as a team to help others. And it’s a really sweet thing,” Long said. “If you really think about it, a lot of children could see that, [and] have it modeled through this children’s show.”
Long said he’s proud of the team at 9 Story Media Group and Brown Bag Films who’ve created the show and how it’s put a spotlight on the goodness you’ll find on Long Hill Dairy Farm. Information on how to watch is below.
“Otis accepts everyone. Otis loves everyone and leads with love. That could be a little warm, fuzzy, corny, cheesy thing to say. But if you lead with [love] on both sides of everything, in the gray areas of life, then I think it’s a pretty good way to be.”
Diversity and inclusion in children’s literature
Long’s list of works is long. He talked to WKYT about two new books he’s been a part of: “Change Sings,” written by Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman, and “Someone Builds the Dream,” written by Lisa Wheeler. Long talked about the message behind the books and what went into the artwork featured in them.
Where to watch Otis
You can watch eight half-hour episodes of “Get Rolling With Otis” right now on Apple TV+. A holiday episode will premier on Friday, Dec. 3.
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