skip to Main Content

Picture Book Review – Little Narwhal, Not Alone

 

LITTLE NARWHAL, NOT ALONE

BY TIFFANY STONE

ILLUSTRATED BY ASHLYN ANSTEE

(GREYSTONE KIDS; $17.95; AGES 4-8)

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone cover

 

 

Children’s poet and critically acclaimed picture book author Tiffany Stone has brought ocean life to the surface in Little Narwhal, Not Alone, a story that is based on the unlikely real-life friendship between two different species of whales—beluga whales and narwhals who usually do not interact.

Poetic, rhyming language flows through each page, while playful illustrations by Ashlyn Anstee guide the reader on this unexpected journey. We are introduced to the sweet little narwhal, with the blue and white tusk protruding from his head, who loves his frozen home. However, the mischievous little whale is also prone to wandering away. “But little narwhal longs to roam, to see the sea beyond this ice, past polar bears to brand-new sights. And so while others hunt and play, narwhal sets off on his way.”

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int1
Interior spread from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Anstee’s childhood summers swimming in the waters of the Canadian west coast are reflected through her cool palette of colorful fish art and the greens of the “northern sky.” This little narwhal swims by schools of fish with Stone’s inviting onomatopoeia of SWISH SWISH! and WHEEEEE! sure to entice young readers to repeat out loud as they join the fun adventure.

Well, needless to say, the fun adventure may not be as much fun as Little Narwhal thought. While looking for narwhal friends to play with, he unexpectantly swims towards a new noise.  But instead of friends, he sees a boat propeller and dives deep to get away. “He swims … and swims … and swims some more. His flippers ache. His fluke is sore. But far off from his frozen home, little narwhal’s all alone.”

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int2
Interior spread from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

 

His head popping out from the green waters, the far-from-home narwhal sees something in the icy distance. When he reaches his destination he discovers whales that seem familiar yet at the same time look like nothing he has ever seen. Anstee draws beluga whales missing the protruding tusk, and readers are now aware that something is different about these whales. “They look like him-or close enough-though no one sports a twisty tusk.”

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int3
Interior art from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Introducing the reader to the theme of acceptance and overcoming differences, Narwal’s wave hello is not understood by the beluga whales. He is determined to find something he shares with the white tuskless creatures so when the pod swims away he follows.

It’s easy to feel the narwhal’s initial sadness and discouragement, and want to reach through the page and give him a big hug. But soon enough  “all the whales begin to play. And … SQUIRT … the new whales welcome him!” Narwhal plays old games and new games with the beluga whales who have now become his friends.

 

Little Narwhal Not Alone int4
Interior art from Little Narwhal, Not Alone written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee, Greystone Kids ©2021.

 

Marine Biologist, Marie Noel, Ph.D., explains in the back matter that a young narwhal was spotted in the St. Lawrence River estuary in Quebec, Canada, among a group of young belugas four years in a row. Typically, she says, beluga whales and narwhals do not interact but this young narwhal may have been adopted by the group of young belugas. Every summer, researchers are now keeping an eye on the whales of the St. Lawrence and this remarkable friendship.

The unique nature of this unlikely friendship tale makes Little Narwhal, Not Alone a powerful read for young children modeling that they may not be exactly like their friends, but despite differences, there are many things that can bring them together.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – A Last Goodbye

A LAST GOODBYE

Written by Elin Kelsey

Illustrated by Soyeon Kim

(Owlkids Books; $ 18.95, Ages 4+)

 

A Last Goodbye cover

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

Today I’m reviewing A Last Goodbye. This moving picture book is recommended for PreK-3, but could be appreciated by all ages.

Humans have long believed that they are the only species to care for the ill and dying and grieve the loss of a loved one. But are we?  

Nearly two years ago, Tahlequah, a female Orca, was spotted pushing the body of her newborn calf off the waters off Puget Sound. Although the calf only survived for a few hours, the mother had bonded with her daughter. For 17 days, people  around the world watched and grieved with Tahlequah as she kept her daughter’s body close to her. After traveling for nearly 1000 miles, she finally released it into the ocean. Responding to questions about the mother Orca’s actions, researchers noted  “ … it’s common for marine mammals to show signs of grief.”

As I write this review the number of deaths in the United States from the covid-19 has exceeded 125,000 and will climb higher still. Tragically, there are many children who have faced or will face the loss of someone they love due to this deadly virus. How can we help children cope with their fears and their grief over illness, death, and loss? The calm and soothing narrative of A Last Goodbye will give children a safe space and the opportunity to discuss their anxieties by exploring how animals tend to the dying and say goodbye to those who have passed away.

Using an intimate, first person narrator, the author guides children through the difficult process of death and grief, by looking at how animals comfort the dying, care for the remains, and grieve for their loss. The evenly paced and lyrical narrative allows for many moments to pause, reflect, and encourage questions and discussion in this recommended read for families.

As children move through the book, they see the care different animals give to comfort the dying.
An elephant reassures a dying member of its herd:

“I will wrap my trunk around you 

and support you with my tusks.” 

e

A Last Goodbye int art 2
Interior spread from A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with art by Soyeon Kim, Owlkids Books ©2020.

 

As a family of chimpanzees minister to their failing member, they:

“… will tuck soft bedding behind your back

and carefully tend to your hair.”

Kim’s stunning and delicate dioramas convey the concern and the grief of the family for the dying, whose fragility is shown in a slumped or sleeping body, outlined in a soft,  glowing line. 

e

A Last Goodbye int art 3
Interior spread from A Last Goodbye written by Elin Kelsey with art by Soyeon Kim, Owlkids Books ©2020.

e

And what happens when a loved one dies? How do we respond? Kelsey shows that animals, like their human counterparts, have many ways of expressing their grief: 

“And when you die

I will gently stroke your body …”

“I will cry out in sorrow … or watch in quiet sadness.”

After death, Kelsey shows children those tender actions we take to honor the dead by observing what animals do: some will gather around the body, others might cover it with leaves. Some return later to 

“… visit the place where your body rests.”

Kim’s diorama is dotted with stars ascending from the bodies of the deceased to the night sky (the book’s end pages also depict a constellation-like map of a variety of animals with their scientific and common names).

Kelsey helps children understand what happens to the body as it sinks into the earth or sea. While death is final, the body nourishes the earth and provides for future generations. She asks the children to wonder: 

“Will tiny roots take hold

and tall trees grow 

in the rich soil you nourish?

Kim’s dioramas depicting how the bodies disintegrate into new life are particularly  breathtaking and turn something painful and frightening into a beautiful and life affirming event. Throughout the book, Kim’s illustrations enhance the narrative’s comforting and soothing tone,

Finally, the author addresses the grief and sense of loss that will always be there:  

“I will miss you forever.”

Yet, she reminds children that the pain of grief is not forever, and that there will be happiness and pride in remembering: 

“ … one day soon,

 I will think of you and feel joy.”

“You, me, all of us.

Every species on Earth.

Our lives plant a long line of love …”

Kelsey and Kim have partnered before with OwlKids Books on You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas, and You are Never Alone. All have received starred reviews from Kirkus. A Last Goodbye is their fourth book together. 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

An eight page teacher guide can be found here. Also watch the interview with the publisher and author here. Check out this video to learn about how the illustrations were created and photographed. 

Bekoff, Marc. A Last Goodbye: a Kid’s book about Animals, Dying, and Death.” Psychology Today, March 31, 2020. 

Pierce, Jessica. “Do Animals Experience Grief?” Smithsonian Magazine, Aug 24, 2018.

Are Animals Aware of Death?

You can find many lists of children’s books about death on the internet. Here’s a few:

Children’s Books about Death, Loss and Grieving (New York Public Library),

7 Beautiful Picture Books to Help Children Understand Death

I would also add City Dog and Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon Muth, a simple yet moving story of friendship, loss, and new beginnings.

•Review by Dornel Cerro

Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: