Buhrman-Deever, Susannah (illus. Matthew Trueman).If You Take Away the Otter. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.
If You Take Away the Otter author Buhrman-Deever emphasizes the idea of balance in a healthy ecosystem and explains that when one element is removed, the rest of the system collapses. In this narrative, the otter is hunted to near extinction making it possible for the urchin population to flourish. The urchins eat the kelp and other seaweed, creating a barren ocean floor where fish and other marine life cannot live, and a starving above water population.
While overhunting by newcomers is identified as the cause of the problem, it is softened by statements like, “People do not always understand at first the changes they cause when they take too much.” Also mentioned was the signing of the Fur Seal Treaty just in time to save the otter and restore some balance to the region.
Effective use of large and small text and additional reading suggestions in the back make this a good choice for new and experienced elementary readers. Trueman’s beautiful illustrations in blues, greens and browns are realistic and make the otter the star of the show. If You Take Away the Otter is a worthwhile addition to any elementary 500 section.
Awards and Reviews: Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book, ALA Notable Children’s Book, NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book.
Dewey: 599.769 Interest Level: Grades 1-4
Older Readers might like: Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, by Patricia Newman
Fiction Pairing: Dark Day in the Deep Sea (A Magic Treehouse Book), by Mary Pope Osborne
On the Web: A short video from PBS on mother and baby sea otters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0OyhHeelyo
Get a dose of adorable, sea otter style, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium website: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/visit/exhibits/sea-otters