Illustrated by Charles Santoso
“Once, in times past, when the ancients lived, the ocean was filled with our kind” (p. 43).
Odder is an odd otter more playful than scared of danger. While she and her friend Kairi are playing one day, they encounter a shark. Odder distracts it so her friend can escape, but she is wounded. Stranded on the beach, Odder is rescued by humans for the second time in her life and comes to reside in the Monterey Bay Aquarium where she was once raised. After a flashback into her past, Odder reunites with her friend Kairi only to learn Kairi recently lost her otter pup. As a result, the humans have given her a stranded pup who she can train. The same humans attempt to give Odder a pup as well. At first, she leaves it alone. Eventually, she comes to accept the otter as her own pup. Together Odder and Kairi train the rescued pups and teach them how to be otters.
Told in short, free verse poems, Odder is a novel loosely based on real otter characters who found their way to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. For climate literacy education, Odder showcases the need for human intervention and creativity to help keystone species thrive. Applegate reimagines Odder’s story (human-given name “Jazz”) to call attention to animal conservation efforts, including the role of marine aquariums and wildlife conservation programs, and specifically the role of sea otters in California’s coastal ecosystems. The specific challenge in Odder is the otter surrogacy program.
At The Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers decided that instead of having the rescuer humans attempt to teach rescued otter pups how to act like an otter, they could use the resident rescued otters as surrogate parents. Odder serves as an eye-opening narrative for children about everyday lives and challenges sea otters face in the wild, including near-extinction from human overhunting (see “The Fifty” poem on p. 43) and the difficulties humans face in rescue efforts (see “How to rescue a stranded otter” poem on p. 66). Through the few snippets of human perspective, it becomes clear that the rescuers are concerned the otters may become too attached to humans (see “Darth Vader” poem on p. 243): imprinting and human bonding would make it difficult or impossible for the otters to return to the wild. When Odder is given a baby to care for, she initially rejects the infant. However, in time she accepts it and the alternative of otters teaching young otters becomes possible. The story can be used to teach children the importance of saving animals without turning them into pets. Animals are the best teachers for their own kind. Odder also shows that even difficult situations can be resolved with the correct alternatives. In Odder that alternative was turning to Odder and Kairi to teach the pups.
The novel ends with a Glossary of terms, an Author’s Note explaining the story’s background, and a list of bibliography and resources young readers can use to explore the topic deeper.
©2023 ClimateLit (Kai Resler)
Monterey Bay Articles:
Sea Otters’ Perilous Path to Recovery: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/stories/sea-otters-perilous-path-to-recovery
The Restorative Power of Sea Otters: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/stories/-sea-otters-help-kelp-forests
Audience: Little People (4-7)