Narwhal: The Arctic Unicorn by Justin Anderson,  illustrated by Jo Weaver

Narwhal: The Arctic Unicorn by Justin Anderson,  illustrated by Jo Weaver. Candlewick Press, 2022. 9781536225129

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  The unusual narwhal stars in this narrative nonfiction picture book that follows one pod on its journey north in the Arctic. An old male leads the group and helps his pod elude dangers, such as a hungry polar bear, thick ice that impedes surfacing for air, and killer whales. Once they reach their destination, females give birth and the group spends the summer frolicking with beluga companions, allowing the babies to grow strong so they can tackle the return journey south. Supplementing the story are numerous facts, displayed in a smaller font below the main text. From these asides, readers will learn about the species’ unusual tusk, their diet, their social structure, and their adaptive behaviors. Weaver’s moody charcoal drawings, filled with digital color, always cover both pages with a dramatic view,  bleeding right to the edge of the paper. Sometimes we see the animals from above, as though we’re in a seaplane; other times we are down in the water or on the shore. A short essay on the future of the narwhal (only 80,000 are left in the wild), further information, and a short index round out the book’s offerings. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I found the darkness of the illustrations challenging. I realize it’s dark where narwhals live (in the ocean, in the North where daylight is in short supply) but it was pretty hard to make out much detail. It’s clear from Anderson’s explanations that there’s really a lot we don’t know about these odd sea mammals, especially about their horns, but I still don’t understand if the horns are pointy enough to be dangerous. Do they ever poke each other accidentally?  

To whom would you recommend this book?  This was an interesting book about an animal I knew nothing about, so I would definitely recommend it to those who love learning about unusual wildlife. Sea mammals are always popular, and this book scores points for also squeezing in belugas and orcas. The basics of habitat, diet, and behavior all receive some attention and that plus the index means the book could be useful for a research project.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? 599.543 

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 17, 2022

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