There will be times when the title of a book alone brings you to tears. The thought of the words becoming a reality is too painful to envision. As a child you believed you might never see certain animals because they lived on continents or habitats far removed from yours. As a much older adult you know you might never see them because they have gone extinct . . . because of humans, their greatest threat.
This coming Friday, September 20, 2019 and next Friday, September 27, 2019 mark the Global Climate Strike where young people are inviting everyone to participate. Our planet and all its inhabitants are in trouble. In the third book in her series (If Sharks Disappeared Roaring Brook Press, May 23, 2017 and If Polar Bears Disappeared Roaring Brook Press, August 28, 2018) author illustrator Lily Williams shifts her focus to one of the largest land mammals. If Elephants Disappeared (Roaring Brook Press, August 17, 2019) addresses in a frank, easy-to-understand narrative how vital these creatures are to one essential environment, the tropical rain forest.
THIS IS THE CONGO BASIN FOREST. It's a
complex ecosystem filled with many different
types of landscapes, plants, and animals.
A variety of animals live here but one of the smallest of the largest land animals is the African forest elephant. As the smallest it still can rise to ten feet tall and weigh a staggering 11,000 pounds. They are known as a keystone species. Every single thing they do affects their habitat. If they're gone, the tropical rain forests in Africa would be altered into something entirely different.
Did you know these elephants eat hundreds of pounds of food every day? Did you know they can walk thousands of miles each year to find food and water? Their poop, dung, holds a multitude of seeds which repopulates the flora of tropical rain forests in Africa increasing the biodiversity as they move from place to place.
It's shocking to note that from 2001 to 2018 sixty-two percent (62%) of their population has diminished mainly due to poaching.
In a carefully explained chain of events, we read if they disappeared, their dung which fertilizes the seeds it carries would disappear. Without the array of plants certain animals wouldn't have food to eat or homes. Without these over 40 species of plants, big trees would rule the landscape, changing the entire habitat. Now the tropical rain forest is truly in jeopardy. With no plant diversity or animals, what do you think happens next?
When one ecosystem fails, it spreads to others. Our entire planet would feel the absence. In closing we are reminded elephants are still found in the African tropical rain forests, but we need to raise our voices to protect and preserve them. We are all connected.
The technique used by Lily Williams to provide facts is meticulously clear. She begins with an overview of elephants, even briefly describing their evolution, and then proceeds with their place as a keystone specie, how they eat and the value of their dung. After speaking about their shrinking population, she starts a series of paragraphs paced as page turns and ending with the words if _____ disappeared. This adds an engaging rhythm while informing readers, leading us to the startling but truthful premise based on scientific evidence. Her concluding pages supply readers with hope and encouragement. Here is a passage.
If plant biodiversity disappeared . . . (page turn)
the large trees would take over the forest. Though large trees reduce harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by capturing carbon in the air and storing it, they also depend on fast-growing smaller plants to create biodiversity in the forest. Larger trees would dominate the forest, crowding out space for themselves and other species. The change in plant life would affect the forest soil, causing erosion, flooding, and even differences in the amount of rainfall the area gets.
Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case the rain forest location moves first to the right flap edge and then over the spine and to the left flap edge. This expanse draws us into the experience with the featured children, not only here but on other pages within the book. Lily Williams has etched an outline around the elephant to indicate its possible disappearance. Here shades of green in the variety of plants and trees and brightly hued small insects create a credible atmosphere.
To the left, on the back two smaller elephants, also outlined in white, follow the adult. A snake hangs from a tree branch. On the left end flap a group of elephants walks in the distance.
On the opening and closing endpapers a spectacular view is shown. Everything is in black except for the water and sky. Shades of pink, orange, yellow and a bit of white color those spaces. Edging the water are hills and the rain forest. On the left a tree and plants provide framing. In the water the adult elephant leads the two smaller ones, trunks to tails, connected in security.
Each page turn reveals a two-page picture with shifts in perspective. We are dazzled by a birds-eye view of elephants making their way through the forest and a close-up of an elephant's head. Readers will find themselves looking at additional details and smaller elements in the images. They will enjoy the tiny bit of humor, too.
One of my many favorite illustrations is for the text quoted previously. In a series of panels of the same area, which looks like a continuous picture, the changes by the lack of plant biodiversity are obvious. As your eyes move from left to right, animals and plants except for the large trees vanish. Little if any light gets through the treetops. You can almost hear the lack of life, a stifling silence.
Essential for all personal and professional collections, If Elephants Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams will linger in all readers' minds long after the book is read. Lily Williams includes a Glossary, All Elephants Are In Trouble, Tropical Forests, How You Can Help Save Elephants, Author's Note, Acknowledgements, Bibliography and Additional Sources on four final pages. They are wonderfully conversational. You could pair this title with How To Be An Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild (David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press, September 19, 2017) written and illustrated by Katherine Roy or The Elephant (Enchanted Lion Books, September 25, 2018) written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond.
To learn more about Lily Williams and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. Lily Williams has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At her site and the publisher's website you can view interior images. You might like this article in Publishers Weekly titled Lily Williams Continues Her Environmental Mission.
For more nonfiction titles, be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see what other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge have chosen this week.