Today’s book recommendation encapsulates my love of other cultures AND endangered animals. This is an enchanting story which introduces children to West Coast Canadian native life and one of the animals which would have been common to these communities, but which has encountered increasing habitat threats over the past century – the sea otter.
Jason and the Sea Otter
Written by Joe Barber-Starkey and illustrated by Paul Montpellier
Published by Harbor Publishing, Second Edition 1997
Ages: 4 and upwards
Themes: Pacific Sea Otters, Nootka Indians, native culture, respect for nature.
Synopsis: This is a contemporary story (first printing 20+ years ago) about a little boy, Jason, a member of the Nootka people, who discovers the return of the sea otter to his Canadian West Coast village. Jason sets out in his dugout canoe for a day’s fishing, though unhurried he also takes many opportunities to observe and enjoy the life around him. The highlight of his day is the arrival of a confident little sea otter that Jason observes closely until the otter pup falls asleep and Jason rushes back to tell his grandfather what he has seen. His grandfather recalls the days of his grandparents when many foreigners started arriving on these shores and when the then large populations of sea otters started to decrease. Jason spent many of the following days observing this new creature and was delighted when he discovered the otter had a friend. He was so intrigued by the appearance of the second otter that in a moment of excitement he falls overboard into the glacial sea. What or who saves the day and keeps the canoe from drifting out of reach of Jason’s grasp you may be wondering?
Why I like this book: A Canadian author and illustrator combine to bring us a west coast native Indian story where the Nootka tribe live and relate harmoniously with the animal cohabitants. Stylistic Indian art, including more than one totem pole, establish Jason’s heritage. Different wildlife abounds on every illustration, enhancing our connection to the natural world. As a 30+-year-old picture book there is much more description and less action than we would find now, but for me this did not detract from the story and its message of respect for the animal world around us.
Resources: Fabulous cross-curricular teachers notes here.
Endangered Status: “Many species have incurred great losses from the fur trade. Four species and two subspecies are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Seven species were listed in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals (one as Endangered, four as Vulnerable and two as Near-threatened) (Baillie and Groombridge 1996). The downward trend of otters was reflected in the fact that the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species listed 11 species (four as Endangered, three as Vulnerable, one as Near-Threatened, and three as Data Deficient). This represents 85 percent of all otters. The large number of species that are threatened is an indication of the massive declines that otters have suffered over the past century, in large part due to the fur industry.” Endangered Species Handbook.