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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.”

 

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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.”

 

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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.”

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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Middle-Grade Novel Review – The Elephant in the Room

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

By Holly Goldberg Sloan

(Dial Books; 17.99 Ages 10-14)

 

The Elephant in the Room cvr

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

In The Elephant in the Room, when middle-schooler, Sila Tekin’s mother is stuck in Turkey trying to get her immigration paperwork in order, the loneliness is almost unbearable for her and her father, Alp. Sila’s newly withdrawn demeanor prompts her school to pair her with autistic classmate Mateo Lopez in a special program that has the kids spending time together at the end of each school day. The point is to help both kids socialize more and, after a slow, silent start, they eventually begin getting to know each other.

Life changes dramatically for Sila and Mateo when Alp is hired to fix an old truck owned by widower, Gio, who lives on a non-working farm on the outskirts of town. Sila and Gio seem to form an immediate bond, even before they discover that Gio’s late wife was Sila’s beloved second-grade teacher. When an odd string of coincidences leads to Gio rescuing a young elephant named Veda from a failing circus, Sila and Mateo wind up with the most awesome summer job ever—caring for Veda. Sila connects to the young pachyderm on a deep level, realizing that, like her, Veda must really miss her mother. A reunion of either mother-daughter pair feels out of reach, but with a team of caring friends—maybe it’s not.

Author Holly Goldberg Sloan has another deeply heartfelt hit on her hands. Again employing the multi-POV device she uses so brilliantly, she lets readers see and feel the unfolding of these extraordinary events through various characters’ eyes. Veda’s POV is used sparingly but impactfully, and even the supporting animal characters—a flock of undisciplined flamingos, a ravenous bear, and a loyal dog—whose POVs we’re not privy to, are well-drawn, quirky, and fun.

Both kids are battling quiet storms within, which makes them interesting and empathetic. Gio is wonderfully complex. His desire to rediscover meaning in life, coupled with voluminous lottery winnings, propel him to take on caring for Veda, somehow feeling it’s something he has to do. His connection with Sila seems similarly fated, and their special bond serves as the glue for all of the characters. A story of hope, longing, love, and action, The Elephant in the Room will show middle-grade readers that things—people, animals, situations—are not always what they seem and that they’re not always as powerless over circumstances as they sometimes feel.

 

Click here to read Ronna’s review of Karol’s debut YA novel, Cursed.

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