Not Quite Narwhal

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Not Quite Narwhal Book Poster Image
Sparkly, fanciful unicorn story about being different.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Narwhals and sea life. Narwhals have tusks. Narwhal diet includes squid and shrimp (in art). How different land animals (crab, frog, turtle) walk.

Positive Messages

It's OK to be different. We can accept others' differences. Be true to yourself and your identity. When you expand yourself to include new identities, you don't have to abandon old friends and loved ones.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kelp is true to himself, though he worries how others will respond. When he has trouble adjusting to walking on land, he keeps trying. The unicorns accept a new member, and the narwhals easily accept Kelp's new identity.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Not Quite Narwhal by debut author-illustrator Jessie Sima is a unicorn story about being different. Kelp the unicorn is born in the sea and hangs with the narwhals since they have tusks similar to his. But when he swims near land and sees a unicorn, he realizes he's one, too. Where does he belong? Will the unicorns accept him? Will the narwhals? Love and acceptance flow easily in this sparkly story painted in pastels and filled with rainbows.

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What's the story?

In NOT QUITE NARWHAL, Kelp is born in the ocean, and though the reader can see he's a unicorn, he thinks he's a narwhal since they have tusks. But Kelp knows that his tusk is shorter than theirs, that he doesn't like narwhal food, and that he's not a good swimmer. One day when he's swept near land, he sees a creature who looks more like him. He climbs to shore and finds a land filled with the new creature -- land narwhals! "Actually," one replies, "we're unicorns. And by the looks of it, so are you!" Kelp has fun with his new friends but misses his old. He swims back to the narwhals and tells them he's a unicorn. "We all knew that," they say. When the narwhals swim back with him to the beach and play with the unicorns, he realizes he doesn't have to choose.

Is it any good?

This gentle story about accepting differences has a young simplicity to it and will appeal to fans of fantasy, unicorns, and rainbows. In Not Quite Narwhal, author-illustrator Jessie Sima skillfully tucks humor into both the text and art. We're told that "Kelp swam home as fast he could, which wasn’t very fast at all." And in one funny spread, Kelp tries to learn to walk on land first by imitating a sideways-walking crab, then a jumping frog, and finally getting the hang of it when he tries to walk like a turtle. The digital art is pastel and sparkly, and the land of unicorns is fanciful -- the unicorns roast marshmallows on their horns -- and filled with pastel rainbows, flowers, and butterflies.

Since Kelp is embraced immediately by the unicorns and narwhals, both groups model easy acceptance. Kelp has inner conflict but no conflict with others, which may or may not mirror readers' own experiences. This book can lead to discussions about kids' identities, as well as acceptance of others.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sea creatures in Not Quite Narwhal. What can they do that Kelp can't?

  • Have you read the classic story The Ugly Duckling? How is this story similar? How is it different?

  • Do you ever feel you're different from other people? Do people accept your differences? Do you accept differences in others?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and stories about difference

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