In honor of Sea Otter Awareness Week, we asked author Jonathan London, and his son and artist Sean London, what inspired them to write and illustrate, Pup the Sea Otter:
“As a competitive swimmer in high school, and now as a lap-swimmer every afternoon at the local pool, I’ve always loved the way sea otters move through the water. There’s a powerful yet fluid grace in the way they move through their world of sea. They need to breathe just like you and me and yet they rarely come up out of it, onto land. They’re almost always under the sea–diving for food–or floating on it, sleeping or eating or playing.
Starting when my son Sean was a toddler, my wife and I began taking him and his older brother Aaron, to Monterey and Pacific Grove and Pt. Lobos, on California’s central coast. We would hike along the cliffs and beaches and keep our eyes out for sea otters. There! Look! A mother sea otter floating with her baby on her belly, riding up and down in the gentle waves!
Right up until Sean was well into his twenties he would go with us to see the otters. And sometimes we’d go to a very special place to see them underwater. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Where you can stand right up against the huge windows and watch the sea otters racing and diving and swirling a few feet away. Wow! Such power and grace, and sometimes, what appears to be a sense of play. The kind of play youngsters of many species—including humans—use to learn the way of their world, a way to survive and thrive in their own natural environments.”
“As a son of a childrenʼs book author, Iʼve been so lucky to have such unique childhood experiences. We traveled so much when I was young! I mean SO MUCH!!!! Iʼve been to nearly every national park multiple times and spent more time in a backseat than Iʼd like to recall. Who knew this would become the perfect recipe to cook up a young childrenʼs book illustrator?
One of our favorite family destinations was Monterey, and Big Sur– and to see the Sea Otters at the Aquarium or out at Point Lobos. Iʼm not sure how my parents managed it, but they brought us out to Point Lobos so often that my brother and I were allowed to sprint out of the car, up over the cliffs and out of our parentʼs sight for hours.We knew the trails like the back of our hands, and probably could have ran them blindfolded. From an artistʼs stand-point, this was the perfect opportunity to build an encyclopedia of reference materials, and I was in the somewhat remarkable position to do exactly that.
Personal experiences are no substitute for diligent research for any artist. I needed to do a ton of research on Sea Otters, from their anatomy to their environment. But when it came down to putting paint to the canvas, all I really needed to do was close my eyes and remember the sights and smells. The smell of kelp and salty air to the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs, and there I was– right back at Point Lobos, watching the rafts of Sea Otters napping in the afternoon sun.”
Want to know more about sea otters and find out about events happening in your area?
To read Pup the Sea Otter, borrow it from your library or buy it at your local bookstore. Here is Sean’s finished and working art from the book:
Set in verse, peppered with onomatopoeia (“munch crunch munch!”) and dramatic sounds (“Eeeeeeeee!”), this is a fine selection for read-alouds. . .School Library Jouranl
Painted images by Sean London, the author’s son, illustrate the story realistically and faithfully, concentrating on mother and pup, emphasizing their bond.Kirkus Reviews
London knows how to tell a story. In this case, he conveys plenty of intriguing facts about sea otters, along with a bit of drama to hold children’s attentions.Booklist
. . . Engaging and captivating. Sensory language invites the reader to empathize with Pup’s experiences, while Sean London’s colorful and life-like illustrations draw the reader in to Pup’s watery world. . . A beautiful book, combining natural history education with literacy support and empathy development. Fun as well as educational, it is a good choice for home or school.Children’s Book Review