A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The author's note, acknowledgements, and bibliography offer a lot of information about the work of the Monterey Bay Aquarium to rehabilitate orphaned otter pups and restore them to the wild -- specifically, the effort to remove visible humans from the process to keep wild otters wild. This not only gives context to Odder's often-overwhelming experiences, it also offers plenty of opportunity for further investigation.
Positive Role Models
More adventuresome, impulsive, and athletic than most otter pups, Odder doesn't always do what she's told and sometimes gets into trouble as a result. But she also tries to rescue her friend from a shark attack and is nearly devoured in the process. She finds ways to make friends with other otters and support them, from her fellow injured adults to the orphaned pups they wind up raising. In the background, largely unseen by design, lots of dedicated scientists fret over the well-being of the otters and how to keep them healthy and happy in the wild.
Violence & Scariness
Since the story is about orphaned otter pups and told from the viewpoint of one of them, the fear, grief, and uncertainty of being permanently separated from your mom is essential to the story -- and while kind humans provide a safety net, it's still hard. Odder is badly injured in a shark attack, so badly she can't be released back into the wild. Another otter gives birth to a stillborn pup.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Katherine Applegate's Odder is a tribute in free verse to California's Monterey Bay Aquarium -- specifically, its program in which resident sea otters nurture and raise orphaned pups for release into the wild. It's seen through the eyes of one of its earliest participants, the title character. There's a lot of grief, loss, and separation as pups lose their moms, moms lose their pups, and friends lose each other -- but also, largely in the background, a large and caring group of scientists working hard and coming up with clever ideas to keep them safe. There are funny moments (like the thoughts of the juvenile great white shark who bites Odder, planning to devour her, finds she tastes just awful, and spits her out). And there are poignant ones (like Odder, separated from her mom in a storm, wondering "where is she, where is she, where is she"). Over the course of the story, Odder goes from orphaned pup to wild sea otter to permanent aquarium resident caring for a new orphan, and most of the story is told from her often conflicted perspective, in which not everything makes sense. Young readers and their parents who find themselves in a similar situation will find the backstory along with a lot of helpful information and resources about the aquarium and its work in the author's note, acknowledgements, and bibliography.
Is It Any Good?
Not unlike the title character, young readers of Katherine Applegate's free-verse tale of an orphaned sea otter may find themselves a bit overwhelmed as her adventures unfold. As young Odder is rescued, nursed back to health, returned to the wild, and nearly devoured by a shark, the emotions are all over the map, and the shifting perspectives (of Odder herself, the scientists, the shark, etc.) sometimes make it difficult to understand exactly what's happening. But all is revealed in a very informative author's note, afterword, and bibliography, which explain the species restoration project at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and where Odder's story fits in. Charles Santoso's endearing illustrations bring Odder and her environment to life.
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