Meet Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! (Tundra, $12.99 HB/$7.99 PB) as he and new best bud Jelly deliver a promising start to a new series of graphic novels for beginning readers. While the happy-go-lucky-whale and the slightly cynical jellyfish each doubt that the other really exists—you’d probably think you were imagining things, too, if you’d never seen a narwhal before!— it’s not long before they develop a true and lasting friendship. Each mini-chapter in Ben Clanton’s adorably zany adventure is a story unto itself; book lovers young and old will especially appreciate the cleverness of the final tale, in which Narwhal shows Jelly that all you need to make a bunch of blank pages into the best book ever is a little bit of imagination. Ages 6-9.
As a “perfectly plain” middle child with two remarkable siblings, Zoe G. Reindeer feels as though she is destined to blend into the background forever. Although she cultivates contentment by tending the plants at her father’s nursery, Doc Reindeer’s Exotic Wonderland, Zoe finds herself slipping more and more often into daydreams about the exploits of her perfect alter ego, Imaginary Zoe, who has all the confidence, talent, and beauty that real Zoe can’t seem to find in herself. The reader, however, knows better: from the very first page of Brenda Woods’s novel, Zoe’s sparkling personality and evident wit leap off the page. Join Zoe in Wonderland (Nancy Paulsen, $16.99) and discover how something as small as a baobab seed can change the lives not only of Zoe, but also of her tight-knit, chaotic, and loving family. Ages 9-12.
Imagine your parents picking you up from school one day and announcing that you weren’t heading home, but to the airport. What if they told you that your name wasn’t really your name? This is what befalls Noah Keller on the day in 1989 when he and his parents leave for East Berlin. There, Noah begins his new life as Jonah Brown behind the Iron Curtain, where there are dictums like “they are always listening,” and his only friend is a secretive girl he calls Cloud-Claudia, thanks to his Astonishing Stutter. Anne Nesbet’s haunting novel Cloud and Wallfish (Candlewick, $16.99) makes a series of incredible events, separated from our time by the fall of the Berlin Wall, seem achingly real and dangerously close to home. Ages 10-13.