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Literature / Otto: Autobiography of a Teddy Bear

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Otto: Autobiography of a Teddy Bear (Otto: Autobiographie d'un ours en peluche in French) is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer. It was initially published in German and French languages in 1999.

It follows the life of Otto, a teddy bear who was offered to a Jewish German little boy named David just before World War II. He had a happy life when David played with him along with his gentile friend Oskar. Then came the war... Otto went through many a misfortune of the war after being separated from David and Oskar, witnessing some of its horrors and woes along the way... until he could finally have a happy ending.

This book provides examples of:

  • Adoptive Name Change: The G.I. who finds Otto in the rubble and brings him back home renames him "Alamo".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Otto is happily reunited with David and Oskar at the end many years after the war, but David's family has perished in the Death Camps, Oskar's father has been killed on the front and Oskar's mother has perished during an air raid.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When playing with Otto, David and Oskar inadvertently spill the content of an inkwell on his face, leaving a permanent stain on it. Years later, Oskar recognizes Otto in the antique shop's storefront, thanks to the ink stain.
  • Children Are Innocent: When David gets a yellow star sewn on his clothes, Oskar asks David's mother if he can have one too. The mother tells him he can't because he's not Jewish, and Oskar then innocently asks "What is it like, to be Jewish?".
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Otto is happily reunited with David and Oskar at the end, after going through utter hell during and after the war.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Pretty much the whole book is made of this trope, especially when Otto is found in the ruins of the German town, although it turns out the two kids who originally owned him made it out alive.
  • First-Person Perspective: The whole story is told from Otto's perspective.
  • Funetik Aksent: In the French version of the book, older Oskar talks like this to show that he was from Germany.
  • Kids Are Cruel: In the USA, Otto gets snatched away from his new owner by a bunch of kids and gets mistreated by them with bats, then gets thrown in a trash can.
  • Living Toy: Otto is treated as very much alive and having feelings, though humans don't seem to perceive him as such.
  • Mark of Shame: Otto witnesses David and his family having to sew yellow stars on their clothes.
  • Mascot: Otto, as "Alamo", becomes the mascot of the regiment of the G.I. he saved the life of, after being brought to the USA.
  • Taking the Bullet: The African-American G.I. who finds Otto in the rubble of the German town gets shot in the chest. The bullet goes through Otto, and Otto's stuffing reduces the bullet's velocity, saving the soldier's life. Otto suffers in the process, making it closer to the trope than just Pocket Protector.
  • Urban Warfare: Otto is found in the rubble of the German town as American troops are advancing in it under German fire.
  • War Is Hell: Tomi Ungerer made this book to answer a question he asked himself: how to talk about the war (i.e. the horrors and woes it brings) to children?
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Once he's brought in the USA, Otto finds peace and a loving family away from the hell of war... only to get stolen, mistreated and thrown in a trash can.