Not Quite Narwhal (Not Quite Narwahl #1)

by Jessie Sima (Author) Jessie Sima (Illustrator)

Not Quite Narwhal (Not Quite Narwahl #1)
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
Growing up in the ocean, Kelp has always assumed that he was a narwhal like the rest of his family. Sure, he's always been a little bit different--his tusk isn't as long, he's not as good of a swimmer, and he really doesn't enjoy the cuisine. Then one night, an extra strong current sweeps Kelp to the surface, where he spots a mysterious creature that looks just like him! Kelp discovers that he and the creature are actually unicorns. The revelation leaves him torn: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? But perhaps, if Kelp is clever, he may find a way to have the best of both worlds. Told with heartwarming illustrations and spare, sweet text, Jessie Sima's debut picture book is about fitting in, standing out, and the all-encompassing love of family.

More books in the series - See All

Kirkus Reviews

The message is an appealing one that could speak to many family situations relating to multiple identities...feel-good story.

Publishers Weekly

Kelp has a narwhal-like horn, but it's kind of short, and he has trouble swimming like the other narwhals. On land, he discovers why: he's a unicorn. (Kelp has a transparent diving helmet, so breathing underwater is no problem.) Fortunately, both unicorns and narwhals accept him warmly: "he didn't have to choose." Newcomer Sima's plot holds few surprises--it's pretty much a standard-issue, born-in-the-wrong-family tale--but her adorable characters trigger smiles throughout, whether it's the newborn Kelp tucked snugly into a sea scallop or unicorns using their horns to toast marshmallows. Vignettes show Kelp unsuccessfully imitating crabs ("Oof") and frogs ("Ow") as he tries learning to walk, reassuring readers that they're not the only ones who struggle to master new skills. By contrast, the text eschews cuteness for dry humor: "Land narwhals!" exclaims Kelp upon seeing unicorns for the first time. "Actually we're unicorns," says an adult, as the other unicorns cavort through rainbows and freshets of clear water. "And by the looks of it, so are you!" Naturally, the story concludes with a festive party for both single-horned species. Ages 4-8. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Feb.)

Copyright 2016 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

The "not quite" narwhal in this story is Kelp, an adorable unicorn, born underwater and living with an equally adorable school of narwhals. His tusk is kind of short, he's not a very good swimmer, and narwhal food is just gross, but his life is pretty great. Kelp is accepted by the narwhals, and he accepts himself as he is. But one day, a strong current drops him on a beach, where he learns to walk (after hysterically imitating a crab and a frog, he finds that a turtle is the best model) and discovers a whole herd of "land narwhals" who look just like him. Little Kelp's new life is awash in rainbows and unicorns—he almost doesn't want to go home. Of course, home isn't quite the same after his adventure, but luckily everyone is on his side. The narwhals and unicorn meet at the beach, and Kelp ends his story in the best of both worlds. Sima draws digitally on a Wacol drawing tablet and has created charming undersea and overland settings on full-bleed spreads. Her narrative is short, with a storyteller's pacing and winning characters, resulting in an appealing book. Read it for a whimsical storytime or provide some text-to-text connections for older students with Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Uni the Unicorn and Bob Shea's Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great. VERDICT Useful for ELA curricula and sure to circulate, this title is highly recommended.—Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Jessie Sima
Jessie Sima is an author/illustrator living and working in New York City. They grew up in a small town in southern New Jersey, unaware that they were a storyteller. Once they figured it out, they told their family and friends, who took it quite well. They are the author of Not Quite Narwhal; Harriet Gets Carried Away; Love, Z; Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies; Spencer's New Pet; Jules vs. the Ocean; and Hardly Haunted. You can visit them at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date
February 20, 2017
Not Quite Narwhal
BISAC categories
JUV039060 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
JUV039090 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | New Experience
JUV002270 - Juvenile Fiction | Animals | Dragons, Unicorns & Mythical
Library of Congress categories
Identity (Psychology)
Identity (Philosophical concept)

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!