If We Were Gone: Imagining the World Without People

Lerner/Millbrook. Mar. 2020. 32p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781541523579.
Gr 1-4–Coy’s environmental picture book challenges young readers to imagine Earth without humans. The book stresses that people need air, water, plants, and a healthy environment to survive, while the reverse is not true of the natural world. The author presents a scenario where nature thrives and pollution disappears. The text is brief and the vocabulary is at the level of a young elementary student. However, the dystopian concepts may not be fully accessible to elementary readers. The text and Capannelli’s double-page watercolor spreads work together to paint a vivid picture of the harm unleashed on the world by humans, and highlight the beauty of the ocean and rainforests when left to thrive without human interference. The idyllic scenes of families enjoying the outdoors contrasted with the demolished buildings and apocalyptic fires are harsh and might be hard to reconcile with young children. Coy explains the book’s purpose in the back matter. A bibliography features adult books that use a similar thought experiment. His “What Can We Do?” section offers positive ideas that children can use to reduce their negative environmental impacts.
VERDICT An optional purchase. The book, while provocative, lacks the substance and scientific detail needed for older children but would be difficult conceptually for younger children.

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