Q: How did you learn about the real-life story of a narwhal who ended up living with a group of beluga whales, and at what point did you decide to write this book?
A: The publisher at Greystone Kids had seen a video clip on the news of the narwhal swimming with the belugas and thought it was a fascinating story, one that would make a great kids’ book. The editor there contacted me to see if I would be interested.
My dad was a helicopter engineer and worked in the Arctic a lot when I was young. Because of this, I’ve always been intrigued by the North, so I immediately said yes to the chance to write about a narwhal!
Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I read and watched everything I could find online about this specific real-life story. The Marine Mammal Research and Education Group (GREMM) was a wonderful resource. They are the group that is tracking the narwhal.
You can find photos, details and even the video that inspired Little Narwhal, Not Alone here: Narwhal (Monodon monceros) - Baleines en direct
I also had a lot of help from marine biologist Dr Marie Noël, who specializes in northern marine mammals (and just happens to be my editor’s sister-in-law).
Narwhals live in an often-harsh environment, which makes it hard for researchers to study them, and, as a result, there isn’t a ton of information about them online. I was so fortunate to have my own private consultant!
The real-life story itself is pretty surprising. It’s not unusual for young narwhals to wander, but this particular narwhal had strayed more than 600 miles (1000 km.), too far for him to find his way back. Also, narwhals and belugas are distantly related, yet they don’t usually interact.
Something fun I learned that didn’t make it into the book is that both narwhals and belugas have nicknames. Narwhals are called “unicorns of the sea” because of their tusks (which are actually long teeth growing through their upper lips), and belugas are called “canaries of the sea” because of all the sounds they make.
Q: What do you think Ashlyn Anstee's illustrations add to the book?
A: I love Ashlyn’s illustrations! I think they are the perfect balance of beautiful and cute.
It must have been a daunting task for Ashlyn to illustrate a story that takes place mostly in water, in an environment filled with ice and snow, and yet her artwork is full of gorgeous colors.
I also love the sense of movement and of emotion. We know how the little narwhal is feeling without him being overly anthropomorphized. There is also a real sense of play, which is so important to this particular story.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says that "this rhyming story of a real-life friendship is compelling not only for its plot, but also for its underlying message about how diversity makes us stronger." What do you think of that assessment?
A: I’m pleased the reviewer sensed the broader messaging. I volunteer mentoring new immigrants to Canada and definitely felt that experience helped me better understand what the little narwhal goes through when he meets others who are both like and unlike him, that he can embrace their differences while also being “sure there’s something that they share” and eventually finding this connection.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A collection of poems for Greystone Kids about super small animals that have amazing abilities (like real-life superpowers) because of or despite their tiny size. It’s due out in 2023.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I discovered that my marketing coordinator’s grandpa and my dad used to work together in the Arctic!
For updates on Little Narwhal, Not Alone and my other projects, you can follow me on Instagram @tiffanystonewriter. I also post photos of Banana the ball python, who inspired my picture book Knot Cannot, illustrated by Mike Lowery.
To get a peek inside all my books, including Little Narwhal, Not Alone, visit www.tiffanystone.ca.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Tiffany Stone.