Author/Illustrator: Jessie Sima
Published: 2017, Scholastic Inc. by arrangement with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Age range: 4-8
Kid#3 loves unicorns and all related animals, real or imagined. Two of my stories feature unicorns as a central element. As you might guess, there is a connection between the two. With that in mind, I am often drawn to books with unicorns and associated creatures. At a recent school book fair, I purchased Not Quite Narwhal. Technically, I bought it for Kid#3 but since she’s in 5th grade, it was really for me.
Kelp was born deep in the ocean.
He knew early on that he was different from the other narwhals.
His tusk wasn’t as long as everyone else’s, he had different tastes in food, and he wasn’t a very good swimmer.
When I first saw this book, I thought it might be a good comparison (or possibly competition) book to one of my stories. It is not quite either one. Kelp is a unicorn who lives in the ocean with narwhals. He is different from the others, but since his friends don’t mind, neither does he. One day he is swept away and discovers unicorns. In fact, he learns that he is a unicorn. He has fun with these new friends, but misses the narwhals. Kelp is conflicted: should he stay with the narwhals or return to the unicorns? In the end, Kelp finds a middle ground and a way to live with both sets of friends at the edge of the ocean.
More than anything else, the cover first prompted me to pick up Not Quite Narwhal, which features a smiling Kelp swimming in the ocean with some happy little fish. I love the bright pastel colors. The illustrations help to make this a cheerful and upbeat book. They are not overdone. They add fun details: Kelp wears a diver’s helmet throughout the story and in one illustration is shown with water wings.
There are many factors that influence the beauty of this story. First of all, Kelp’s narwhal friends recognize his differences and love him anyway. Kelp knows the differences too, but he is happy with himself. When he discovers the unicorns, he enjoys finding creatures like him who show him the joys of being a unicorn. Kelp’s conflict comes when he has to choose between his lifelong friends and those on the land who are like him. Kelp’s solution allows him to have the best of both worlds and to join all of his friends together on the edge of the ocean.
The text is straightforward without being wordy. There aren’t a lot of “sparkly” words, but that is by no means a deficit, and the vocabulary is at an appropriate level for the target audience. It has simplicity without being simplistic and shows that good storytelling does not require fancy words or phrases.
This is a book about celebrating who we are and recognizing from where we come. It is a book about finding a compromise—even compromise with ourselves—and bringing together those who are different from each other but also similar. It is not so much a unicorn book, but rather a book about finding out how we fit into our world. Children will be drawn to the whimsical illustrations, the straightforward text, and the fun and upbeat story. Unicorns and narwhals provide an added bonus of popular appeal.