I’m a sucker for cute covers. I mean, who isn’t? It doesn’t matter if it’s a six year old kindergartener walking among the stacks in my library or if it’s a forty-four year old man (me!) walking through Barnes and Noble, readers are drawn to books initially due to the cover art. I have a lot of kids who are obsessed with unicorns, so this book caught my eye and I decided to give a try. I found a total winner!
Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal is the story of Kelp, a baby unicorn born under the sea to a heard of Narwhals. The reader is never told how this happened and it’s never addressed. Instead, Kelp does his best to fit in. He’s not very successful.
One day a swift current sweeps him away to dry land where he find a heard of animals who look just like him: land narwhals! We would know them as unicorns. Kelp finds peace, comfort, and a sense of belonging with his new friends. But he misses his narwhal family beneath the ocean. He decides to return.
When he reunites with his family, they all have missed him and welcome him home. Kelp announces that he is a unicorn, not a narwhal. The narwhals tell him they’ve always known that and it’s ok.
As time goes on Kelp feels torn between two worlds. With the help of his family and his new friends, he discovers that he doesn’t have to choose between belonging in both worlds. He can be a part of both.
The book’s theme is clearly pointing toward LGBTQ students, coming out stories, and kids who struggle with their identities. I can also see how the story may resonate with kids who have two families such as kids who’ve suffered from divorce or are a part of a foster family.
I don’t see this book as overtly socially political, but the themes point in that direction. Yet I’m not at all worried about placing this lovely tale in a school library. All kids need a sense of belonging and that alone is enough to warrant this book’s purchase. Ultimately it’s up to the adult reading the book to point out the connections between the story and the real world. Older kids will be able to see the connection.
I give this book my highest recommendation. The artwork is gorgeous and the characters are fun to see. The theme is culturally relevant and will prove useful for kids who may be struggling with difficult issues in their lives.
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