These days, much of our energy goes into survival, whether that's by protecting our health or trying to stay afloat financially. Those efforts don't often leave us the wherewithal to ask what would happen if we weren't here. Author John Coy has been fascinated by that question ever since he first saw abandoned houses, farms, and buildings and wondered: "Who lived here? Where did they go? Why did they leave?" Then he read Alan Wiseman's The World Without Us and grew even more interested in how quickly plants and trees reclaim a landscape after people leave.
If We Were Gone, intended for 5 - 10 year olds, grows out of Coy's reflections on these interrelationships between our presence and nature's health. Readers get drawn into imagining a post-human world with pipes bursting, vines twining up elevated highway pillars, pollution decreasing, new trees taking root, and the eventual collapse of buildings. Natalie Capannelli's illustrations are sometimes alarming — as when a lightning storm sets a wildfire burning uncontrolled — and sometimes strangely peaceful, as sunflowers sprout up beside a half-buried computer.
As Coy shows that "year by year, what humans made would fade," we view a world cleaner, wilder, and more wondrous. We are reminded more than once that the world's creatures and plants do not need us but we do need them and "must take care in all the ways we can."
The book closes with an author's note about what inspired it and with a "What Can We Do?" page. We are encouraged to acknowledge the extent of extinction already going on, spend more time outside, and study the challenges so that we can offer solutions.