A Lot of Otters

Publisher: Philomel Books, NY, 1997

Editor: Patricia Lee Gauch

Art Director: Cecilia Yung

Designer: Donna Mark with BHB

Awards and Honors:

1998 Children's Book Award, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association;

Chosen as a Best Book of 1997 by School Library Journal;

Selected for “The Original Art 1997, Celebrating the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration,” exhibition sponsored by the Society of Illustrators, New York.

A Lot of Otters

A toddler in pajamas sails off in a box with his book, and the story in his book unfolds around him. He meets the sea otters who dive for fallen stars under the sea, carry them up and cavort with the stars, causing “such a commotion of light,” that Mother Moon looks down. There she finds her own child, the toddler in the box, “safe with a lot of otters, in a sea of stars.”

Detail from A Lot of Otters, by Barbara Helen Berger

“They made such a commotion of light…”

Author’s comments:

When the toddler, Moonlet, climbs into his cardboard box, the blue shadow under the box turns into water, and as he reads his book he sails away. From then on, everything takes place in that fantasy water, painted with washes of blue to flow from page to page.

The sea otters are based on careful observation (in Aquariums, videos and books). So their activities reflect what sea otters actually do – the way they dive, the way they carry their food up, the way they eat, groom, play. But here, they are playing with stars, and one otter is reading Moonlet’s book from the moment he drops it (“Oops”) to the very end.

In a picture book, I like showing something in the art that is never mentioned in the words but is an integral part of the story. Here, the cardboard box and the toddler’s book with its red cover are never mentioned. Nor is the otter who keeps on reading that book while everything goes on around him. Then, if you lift off the dust jacket on the real book (in hardcover), you will see the cover underneath is the same as the book in the story: red with a star.

In a sea of stars

“… in a sea of stars.”

Reviews of A LOT OF OTTERS

School Library Journal
September 1997
*starred review*

… PreS – In this gentle, lovely fantasy, a winsome toddler climbs into a cardboard box, book in hand, and sails off into a nighttime encounter with a band of otters. Spare lines of text follow the reading child out onto the water, where the book falls overboard, soon to be retrieved by the curious otters, some holding their own babies. The unseen Mother Moon weeps tears that fall as stars on the drifting crowd, and soon all are caught up in diving and grasping these glittering objects. Berger’s softly drawn otters are comical and appealing as they cavort through the blue and green water swirling across the double-pages, playing with the stars and picture book and reaching out to the baby in his box. Mother Moon finally notices the commotion and is reunited with her child in the star-filled sea. Moon Mother and her sleeping moonlet, surrounded by drifting sleepy otters, are framed by a pale green moon for the quiet conclusion. The child in soft red pajamas, his red jacketed book telling also of moon and stars, and the tan cardboard box are both playful and familiar touches, grounding the scheme in the real world as it pushes easily into dreamland. The deft flow of words and pictures and the universal theme of the venturing child and anxious mother reunited are a satisfying combination, and toddlers are sure to delight in the mischievous antics of all those whiskery otters.

– Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston

Publishers Weekly
July 14, 1997

In rhythmic text paired with translucent art, the story of a pajama-clad boy unfolds, as he pushes off to sea in a cardboard boat and reads a book about Mother Moon, who is looking for her lost “moonlet.” But his book falls into the grasp of otters. Here Berger (Grandfather Twilight) deftly divides her tale into two intertwining perspectives: the boy and the otters are reading about their own simultaneous adventure of helping Mother Moon to find her lost child, who is the boy himself. Simple enough for beginning readers, Berger’s text is dreamily evocative: when Mother Moon’s tears fall as stars, the otters “wrestled and rolled and rubbed the starlight into their fur”—making a “commotion of light” to draw Mother Moon’s attention. Berger’s watercolors take on the colors of heaven and sea waltzing in tranquil veils of green and blue. She moves from the intimacy of the orphan in his boat reading, to the expansive heavens from which Mother Moon recognizes her lost moonlet with equal agility. A gentle, lulling reverie to ferry youngsters from bedtime to dreamtime. Ages 2-6.

Sept. 22, 1997

The title may give the impression that this is a counting book; instead, Berger … presents an exquisitely composed and tender fantasy, melding text and pictures so well that one could not exist without the other. She calibrates the pacing of this picture book perfectly: The first page shows a toddler walking with a book; the baby climbs into a box at the title page; at the opening of the real story, the child begins reading the book, about “Mother Moon” looking for her child, her “moonlet.” What the child sees on the picture-book page is the scene readers see; from there, the events are nonstop: The toddler drops the book, and an otter spots it from underwater. That otter reads the book aloud to a group of otters treading water, including one who floats on her back with her baby lying upon her like a fuzzy teddy bear. The moon-mother’s tears fall into the sea, turning into stars – a folktale element that allows for lovely compositions as the otters dive for the stars. Mother and moonlet – who turns out to be the toddler – are reunited. Themes of independence, separation, and reunion are all given play in a book in which sweet otters act like children and look like expertly drafted, favorite stuffed animals, floating and dozing off at the end. (Picture book. 2-6)

Children’s Books

Grandfather Twilight
Grandfather Twilight

An old man made of sky goes out walking at the end of each day. In his hand, he carries a single pearl that grows with every step until, “Gently, he gives the pearl to the silence above the sea.” A classic bedtime picture book.

Read More »

The Donkey’s Dream
The Donkey's Dream

As he walks along, a donkey dreams he is carrying a city, a ship, a fountain, a rose, then a “lady full of heaven” upon his back. When the lady gives birth in a cave, she calls the donkey to her: “See what we have carried all this way, you and I.”

Read More »

All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet
All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet, by Barbara Helen Berger

How far is it to Lhasa? Very far. Up windy slopes, over mountain torrents and snow, a boy and his yak keep going. Will they ever reach the holy city of Lhasa? The boy doesn’t know, but an old woman has told him he can make it there before nightfall.

Read More »

Animalia, by Barbara Helen Berger

Learning to do calligraphy, I fell in love with Medieval illuminated manuscripts. I wanted to try and make one for children of our own time. I was also exploring Buddhism and Christianity and found a great compassionate heart in both. In Buddhism, this big heart includes not only human beings, but all beings, even small insects.

Read More »

Gwinna, by Barbara Helen Berger

GWINNA is the story of a girl who has wings but does not know it. When she hears a mysterious song in the wind, it fills her with longing. Led by a small white owl, Gwinna sets out on a quest, finding her wings, her own power of flight, and at last the harp she longs for.

Read More »

The Jewel Heart
The Jewel Heart, by Barbara Helen Berger

On a small stage on the forest floor, two dolls play out their story. Gemino gives his song to Pavelle with the only voice he has, his violin, and she cannot dance without him. But one day Gemino is lost, and Pavelle sets out to find and then to fix her broken friend if she can. A story of the healing power of love.

Read More »

Angels on a Pin
Angels on a Pin, by Barbara Helen Berger

There is a famous old question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Long-ago philosophers used to ponder that. Ideas still come from asking questions. ANGELS ON A PIN begins with one we can ask any time: What if?

Read More »

When the Sun Rose
When the Sun Rose, by Barbara Helen Berger

A magic friend comes with her lion from the yellow rose of the rising sun. She stays to play: “The lion purred. And we made rainbows all day.” At sunset, the friend must leave, but she promises to return. “Now it is dark. My friend is gone.”

Read More »

Thunder Bunny
Thunder Bunny, by Barbara Helen Berger

When old Granny says, “She came out of the blue,” Thunder Bunny wonders, “I did?” She ponders the sky where clouds come and go yet the blue is always there. “I came from the sky.” The others pooh-pooh that, but Thunder Bunny decides to jump on the wind and find out.

Read More »

Where to Find My Books

Moonlet’s book from A Lot of Otters