If You Take Away the Otter, by Susannah Buhrman-Deever/Illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (May 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763689346
A moving look at how ecosystems are connected, If You Take Away the Otter begins with a discussion on the kelp forests in the Pacific Coast waters. Towering kelp trees can grow up to a foot a day, and are full of living creatures: abalones, clams, sea stars, and more find their shelter within the kelp. Sea otters hunt in these waters, requiring about a quarter of their own body weight in food to keep warm (kids would need to eat about 24 hamburgers a day as an equivalent!). Otters keep the food web in balance. In the 18th century, the international fur trade came to the Pacific waters, and otters were hunted for their pelts: which caused a disastrous fallout in the ecosystem. With the otter population decimated, sea urchins proliferated, eating the kelp forests to their bottoms, forming “urchin barrens”. When people above noticed the change, they enacted laws to protect the remaining population; the otters returned, got control of the urchins, and new kelp once again flourished. As the story says: “Those forests are homes again for crabs and snails, sea worms and shrimps. They make safe places for the fish and their eggs. There is food for the seaweed eaters; there is food for the hunters. There is just enough of everything to help the kelp forests, and all that depend on them, thrive”. An author’s note highlights the importance of food webs in our ecosystems, and how a change in one part of the web affects both the ecosystem and the people – in this case, the Indigenous Peoples of the northern Pacific – who depend on them to survive and thrive. There are resources available for further reading and research.
Mixed media illustrations run primarily blue and green, showing both a thriving and a struggling underwater world. The otters are rendered in beautiful detail, and the floating kelp is almost tangible as it dances across the page. The artwork is just brilliant and gives real life to the factual text. Small callouts throughout offer deeper reading about the effects of environmental change.
A solid book to have in your natural history collections. When my Corona kids come in looking for food webs/ecosystems information, this is a book I want to have handy for them.