Outsiders bond at Miss Blubber’s School for Arctic Mammals.
Not being seals like their teacher and the rest of their classmates, and bad at sports to boot, Neville the narwhal and Wilfred the walrus lead socially isolated lives (they don’t even like each other much)—until the arrival of new student Betty Beluga…who excels at everything but keeps to herself. Being, as Smouha puts it, “smitten,” Neville tries to impress Betty with a soccer-ball trick, but Wilfred torpedoes the effort. All three proceed to play hide-and-seek, and then, after Betty rejects a demand to pick one over the other (“I don’t need any rescuing and I don’t want a boyfriend thank you very much”), become “firm” friends who never again fret about fitting in. Ta-da! Bunnell illustrates this sketchy tale with chalky views of rotund sea creatures in chairs, on a soccer field, and like minimally detailed settings. The seals are all a uniform gray; Neville and Wilfred are, respectively, mustard and blue; Betty is a dazzling white…which gives the closing observation that “Wilfred and Neville and Betty were not like the other kids in Miss Blubber’s class” potentially uncomfortable overtones. Considering that the seals all look pretty much alike aside from the odd hat or scarf, it’s also more exclusionary than otherwise, which begs the final “And that was just fine.”
Simplistic wish fulfillment unlikely to move or comfort similarly marginalized kids. (Picture book. 6-8)