Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review - If We Were Gone

If We Were Gone: Imagining the World Without People
by John Coy
illustrated by Natalie Capannelli
Date: 2020
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Water, air, sunlight, plants... we need these elements to live in this world. But does the world need us? And what would happen to the world if humans were gone? This is the premise of a thought-provoking picture book from John Coy. His insightful text explores how nature would reclaim the planet, accompanied by Natalie Capannelli's gorgeous watercolor illustrations. Back matter gives further context and discusses what kids (and all of us) can do to truly help our planet.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Many of us have probably seen or heard about books and movies in this vein for adults. If We Were Gone is a sanitized version of those speculations aimed at kids. Unfortunately, the book's conclusion (i.e., the world doesn't need humans at all) is fundamentally flawed, in part due to what is left out of this version.

Do humans need the planet? Of course. Does the planet need humans? This book takes the stance that it doesn't, and that might have been true... a few hundred years ago. Now, however, humans have made a big mess, and there are some parts of it that only we have the capability to clean up or mitigate. One of the most striking things about some of those adult versions was what happens with regards to nuclear power. Without humans around to man the facilities, the world soon faces a situation of multiple meltdowns, explosions, and radioactive fallout. Now, I can see how that could be a bit intense for a kids' picture book, but glossing over it doesn't paint an accurate picture, either. Also a bit confusing is how the book completely ignores the issue of plastic pollution. In fact, on the issue of human objects breaking down, the text is limited to: "Some materials would last longer--bronze, silver, gold, ceramic."

Basically, this book minimizes the fact that we've made a mess and shows a future world without us that's only partially accurate. If the human race had magically vanished in, say, 1819, the natural world could've recovered easily from our onslaughts. If the human race were to disappear in 2019, we'd leave behind a toxic dump full of plastic, industrial chemicals, and melting-down nuclear reactors. In that context, it seems a stretch to argue that the planet would be better off without us.

Thank you to NetGalley and Millbrook Press for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

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