IF ELEPHANTS DISAPPEARED by Lily Williams is the third in the “If…Disappeared” books, and its precise but simple approach to explaining the vital influence one species can have is both effective and heartbreakingly beautiful. Readers follow two children who act as guides through the Congo Basin Forest and who react to the information about Elephants as a keystone species.
The author uses kid-friendly imagery to convey the lifestyle and importance of elephants to their ecosystem. With expressive and detailed illustrations in rich, deep color, we see elephants walk through forests, and through paneled pages we see the effect of elephants disappearing on the density of the forest. The text, set in short paragraphs on each page informs readers about the evolution and current influence elephants have. While Williams tackles complex ideas like a “keystone species” and “trophic cascade,” the language is direct and accessible, especially combined with the images.
Young readers will get a kick out of the importance of elephants spreading their poop for miles; one of the characters is shown stepping in elephant poop as her brother laughs. Williams takes that jovial moment to explain, in words and pictures, how seeds grow faster in dung than in the ground. To demonstrate the numbers of elephants disappearing, a startling graphic showing the loss of 62% of African forest elephants since 2001 includes 100 images with 62 of them empty shadows. This is appropriate for the intended age group, and stark enough for impact. A mention of poachers killing elephants for their tusks is made, but no imagery accompanies that. Again, Williams is able to present facts with impact but keep it appropriate for the intended audience.
The book includes a glossary, statistics about elephants and their impact world-wide, and a section for how young readers can make informed and positive choices and help spread the word about elephants. There are also additional resources for families and classes to continue their learning. If Elephants Disappeared is both an informative call to action and an enjoyable book to read. Highly recommended.
review by Kristin Wald