As a writer and illustrator, I’m always on the hunt for new story ideas. My debut picture book, As Strong As the River, grew from an obsession with drawing grizzly bears. The Perfect Rock took shape much the same way.
One day while sketching otters, I was listening to an animal documentary I had on in the background. I heard something that piqued my interest: otters not only use rocks as tools to open shells, but also as comfort objects and toys. (Google search “otters juggling rocks” –– you won’t be sorry!) Not only that, but they’ll often choose a rock to keep with them for the rest of their lives, stowing it in a little pouch under their arms. Basically, a rock is an otter’s everything tool!
When I heard this, I knew there was a story there. Soon enough, I developed a story about three otter siblings (Ollie, Bea, and Ula) who are on the hunt to find the perfect rock. One that is tough enough, smooth enough, and beloved enough to hold tight and never lose. But when they all come across the most perfect rock of all, they must decide who deserves it most. This storyline draws inspiration from my relationship with my own siblings and our sharing squabbles.
When writing a picture book narrative, I can only convey so much of the information I’ve researched and still keep the story feeling balanced (at least in the fiction genre). There are loads of fascinating things I’ve learned about otters that aren’t explicitly in the text of The Perfect Rock, but that still helped inform the story. I would love to share my top seven of those facts with you! (If you look closely at the illustrations in The Perfect Rock, you might even see a few of them featured):
1. The first is one that many already know, but perhaps the most adorable sea otter fact is that they hold each other’s paws and cuddle to keep from floating away.
2. As playful as sea otters are, they also love to lay back and relax amongst the waves. Otters that live near kelp forests will twist themselves in the kelp, using it as an anchor so they can relax all day long! When otter pups are especially young and their parents need to go off on an errand, their Mamas will wrap the pups in seaweed to keep them safe and sound until she returns.
3. Otters are constantly grooming themselves to ensure peak fluffiness. Unlike other marine mammals, sea otters don’t have blubber. Instead, their dense fur acts as a layer of insulation between them and often-freezing temperatures, and it keeps them afloat with little effort. Sea otters have the thickest fur of any animal (around 600,000-1,000,000 hairs follicles per square inch!).
4. A group of sea otters is called a “raft”. There are sometimes up to 1000 otters in one raft!
5. Swimming and staying warm is hard work for a little otter’s body. To maintain their energy levels, sea otters eat about 25% of their body weight every day. This means daily shellfish feasts are a must!
6. IUCN/The World Conservation Union lists sea otters as endangered. Many of the ongoing threats to sea otters stem from humans, including oil spills, boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and habitat degradation due to global warming.
7. Sea otters are a keystone species. Keystone species have a direct and crucial impact in maintaining the ecological health of an area. Otters help control the kelp-eating sea urchin population, which helps maintain the protection kelp forests provide for a diverse marine ecosystem.
Otters truly are amazing creatures. I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit on the inspiration for The Perfect Rock and maybe learned a few interesting things about sea otters as well!
I love how much we can learn from animals. The richness and depth of their experiences can certainly add a lot to our own. Just as the sea holds countless “perfect” rocks for the determined sea otter, nature is a treasure trove of stories waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
Sarah Noble will be reading from The Perfect Rock live in a storytime event in Utah! Join Sarah at The King’s English Bookshop on Saturday 6th August, 11am – 12pm for a free-to-attend event where Sarah will also be signing copies. More details here.
The Perfect Rock
Three young otters learn about how to share on one momentous day in every otter’s life: the day they pick their perfect pebble! A gorgeous animal picture book for families to read together.