Just like the determined sea otter in her new illustrated novel for young readers, Karen Autio had to be persistent in her 30-year quest to see Kah-Lan, the Adventurous Sea Otter from concept to publication. The short novel (illustrated by Sheena Lott and published by Sono Nis Press) may be a west coast adventure tale revolving around sea otters, but there is nothing cute and cuddly in this story. Kelowna-based Autio is known for her meticulous research (her earlier works of historical fiction have garnered considerable critical acclaim) and the main characters in her latest novel are realistic sea otters who must engage their wits and strength in the face of danger in order to survive and return to their home bay. Blending natural history with good storytelling, Kah-Lan appeals to children curious about sea otters and the challenges they face: survival is tough in the Pacific Ocean and human encroachment is a constant threat to their fragile marine environment. 

Despite the novel’s long and, at times, difficult gestation, Autio has no plans to stop writing any time soon. “My passion is writing and the ideas keep bubbling up,” Auto says. “The energizing joy and satisfaction derived from creative expression and having readers connect with my stories keeps me writing. And, I love researching! As I research, story ideas grow, and I’m fascinated by the jigsaw puzzle of transforming facts into a compelling story.”

Autio’s interest in sea otters dates back to 1984 when she first visited the Vancouver Aquarium. “I fell in love with the sea otters,” she confesses. She became a frequent aquarium visitor, always heading straight for the sea otters. “At first I was attracted to the cute and cuddly aspects of these mammals, but the more I researched them, the more respect and amazement I had for sea otters and their ability to survive living in the cold Pacific Ocean.” Observation and research led to an early draft of the story that would eventually find publication three decades later. 

Before sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction, their range extended from Japan to Baja California. Today, their range and numbers are both greatly diminished. As a keystone species, sea otters are vitally important when it comes to maintaining the kelp forests of the marine environment. Kelp forests, in turn, support a rich diversity of sea life. Because sea otters and humans both enjoy eating many of the same types of seafood, when sea otters become ill, humans would be wise to take note. Sea Otter Awareness Week (the last week of September each year) helps raise awareness about sea otters, the health of their marine environment as well as bring attention to sea otter research and conservation efforts.

Karen Autio will be launching Kah-Lan, the Adventurous Sea Otter at the Vancouver Aquarium on September 26 and will also be appearing this fall at various Okanagan schools, libraries and other venues to share her passion for sea otters, natural history, research and writing. 

October 3, 2:30PM-4:30PM 

Kelowna Library 

1380 Ellis Street

Book launch. Short reading, Q&A, crafts, activities and sea snacks! [Sand Dollar cookies and Sea Star cookies] Contest for students! A free author presentation for the school or homeschool co-op with the most students attending the event. Door prize for teachers! Draw for a reading circle set of 6 copies of Kah-Lan, the Adventurous Sea Otter for teachers who attend, donated by Sono Nis press

October 10, 9am - 1pm 

Penticton Market/Hooked on Books

225 Main Street

Penticton, BC


Book signing. Free. 

October 17, 1pm-3pm 

Mosaic Books

411 Bernard Ave., Kelowna

Book signing. Free. 

November 28, 9:30am - 3:30pm

Book table/signing at A Touch of Christmas in Kelowna

New Life Church 

2041 Harvey Ave., Kelowna 

About the Book

Kah-Lan, the Adventurous Sea Otter

By Karen Autio

Illustrated by Sheena Lott

JUVENILE FICTION • Ages 7–12 • 64 pp • 6 x 7.75

ISBN 978-1-55039-244-9 • paper • $9.95

Kah-Lan, a young sea otter, is hungry. He is sure there are big crabs and sea urchins, his favourite foods, around the point, but his mother won’t let him out of her sight. Then, one day, Kah-Lan sees his chance. He and his friend Yamka race to the point and soon they are swept into danger. At first, the challenges are familiar: strong currents, crashing waves, the open ocean, and Orca, who is hungry too. Then, as the sea otters travel unfamiliar waters, they encounter new and strange dangers: two-legged furless creatures; fearsome, noisy, smelly things that pull log islands; and fish-filled webs that threaten to tangle them up and drag them down. All the while, they struggle to find enough food to keep going. Will they ever get back home?

The heroic travels of two dynamic and realistic sea otter characters are a wonderful introduction to sea otters, and to the human activities that threaten them. Warm and appealing illustrations by Sheena Lott and a triumphant ending will inspire readers to learn more about these remarkable animals, helped by the factual notes and resources provided by author Karen Autio, who has loved sea otters from first sight. This is the fourth book by popular author Autio, and her first foray into illustrated chapter books and natural history.

What People Are Saying

“As a former teacher, I believe this would be a wonderful addition to studying sea life, appropriate to studies of family and friendships, to discussions of competition, danger, decision-making and individuation.” —Margaret Hope

“The author has clearly done a lot of research on the natural history of sea otters and draws on this consistently throughout the story.” —Linda Nichol, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Biological Station, Nanaimo

About the Author

Karen Autio is originally from Nipigon, Ontario. She has made her home in Kelowna for the past 19 years. Her previous book, Sabotage, was shortlisted for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book and the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award. In addition to author visits to schools, she has also served as a delegate for the British Columbia Festival of the Arts and as a judge for the Okanagan Regional Historica Fair. In May, Karen will be a touring author with the TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2016. Karen is a member of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia and the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers. For more information on Karen Autio and her writing, visit http://www.karenautio.com

About the Artist

Sheena Lott is an accomplished artist who for the past 30 years has had a very successful and varied career. This busy artist has had many solo and group gallery exhibitions in Canada and the USA. Currently she is represented by the Winchester Galleries Ltd.,The Peninsula Gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria Art Rental. She is best known for her painterly style and 3-colour palette often depicting figures in the landscape. In addition to producing new works in oil and watercolour for gallery exhibitions, Sheena illustrates books, paints commissions and lectures on the Queen Mary and other cruise ships all over the world. Sheena has illustrated 11 children's books including the perennial bestsellers Jessie's Island and Salmon Forest.


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