April 25 marks World Penguin Day! Why, you ask, are penguins celebrated in April, when the weather is finally starting to cooperate (hopefully)? It’s because this day has been proven to coincide with the annual northern migration of penguins, as detailed on the Ian Somerhalder Foundation’s website.
I however continue to present my penguin themed story time in the winter, because two-year-old children have no sense of migration unless it’s the migration between my story time carpet to the toy area and back. Penguin Awareness Day is January 20th, and that’s when I choose to celebrate our fine flightless friend.
Title: Penguin Cha-Cha
Author/Illustrator: Kristi Valiant
Publisher/Date: Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2013.
How have I gone so long without knowing about this darling book? Julia, perched atop of a tree branch in a flouncy green skirt, is watching the dance show at the Romping Chomping Park and Zoo, when she notices some interlopers on stage. It’s the penguins, pilfering the props and beating a hasty retreat back to their enclosure. Julia is intent on joining in the fun, but the penguins see through her disguise and ultimately that of her unlikely dance partner. Will the penguins allow her to join their party, or is she relegated to observer? The penguin exhibit isn’t really an enclosure with an ice bridge leading right out through the door, but I’m suspending belief on that and most of the exhibit designs. That’s part of the whimsy, as monkeys frolic in a banana themed structure and the giraffe and elephants are seen interacting with patrons. Also part of the whimsy is Julia’s electric tape and pillow costume fooling the zoo staff and her repeated interactions with the animals. Never mind that though, suspend away, because the illustrations work so well. Bright, bold, expressive, and full of movement, these penguins have personality, possibly influenced by the penguins in the Madagascar movies.
Title: I Wish I Could … DANCE!
Author: Tiziana Bendall-Brunello
Illustrator: John Bendall-Brunello
Publisher/Date: QEB Publishing, Inc. 2011.
Penguin watches a dance at the zoo, where the monkeys swing dance (haha) and the flamingos dance ballet and the hippos line dance. Little Penguin can’t do any of those things right. His moves spark a movement though, and creates a new “break dancing” because it breaks all the rules. Penguin is reminiscent of Gerald in the Elephant and Piggie series Elephants Can’t Dance, with his sheer enthusiasm to try something new, but his complete disregard for accuracy in light of his utter joy is unique and a refreshing spin (couldn’t resist) on attempting to learn a new skill.
Title: Flora and the Penguin
Author/Illustrator: Molly Idle
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books LLC, c2014.
If you liked Flora and the Flamingo, you’ll enjoy this follow-up to one of a previous year’s Caldecott Honor Books. Flora, decked out in a blue snow suit with yellow accents in her shirt, hat, and the pom-poms on her ice skates, encounters a penguin whom she invites to dance. After several spins around the ice, the penguin disappears into the water to bring up a fish to present to Flora. Not as pleased with the gift as the penguin expected, his look of aghast as Flora flings it back into the frozen water is priceless. Flora than must set things right. This wordless book is designed beautifully, with a few simple flaps and one pull out page that works so well, it’s obvious Molly Idle, or someone on her team, knows what they are doing! Pay attention to the fish under the ice and the body language of the characters. A picture’s worth a thousand words, and in this case they tell so much more.
Title: Flight School
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014.
Who knew that beaks could be so expressive? Skepticism, frustration, and utter joy are all present in slight changes of the beak lines. Penguin has the soul of an eagle, but after enrolling in flight school all the other birds see is the body of a flightless penguin. He attaches feathers to his wings and jumps, but does not stay airborne. Flamingo helps him realize his dreams, but there’s one final scene where I’m sure Flamingo is questioning if that was really the best course of action. Penguin’s aviator-esque glasses defy gravity in their constant presence on his beak. The yellow sky and bright colors mean even when Penguin is disheartened, reader’s still see the light and the book’s cheerfulness is unaffected.
Title: If You Were a Penguin
Author/Illustrator: Wendell and Florence Minor
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2009.
The Minors make the task of melding nonfiction and fiction look effortless in this must read book. Did you know there are 17 different kinds of penguins? Many are presented in these pages, in close-up, life-like drawings. The rhyming verse addresses the audience and informs them of little-known facts, like some penguins live underground. Be sure to peruse the last page where many (but unfortunately not all) species of penguin is identified. A must read that I’ve been including for years whenever I conduct a penguin themed program.
Title: I Am Small
Author/Illustrator: Emma Dodd
Publisher/Date: Cartwheel Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., by arrangement with Templar Publishing, Surrey, United Kingdom, c2010.
A coworker clued me into this quieter tale about a tiny penguin who knows his place in the bigger world. Filled with beautiful, captivating illustrations, I’ve used this twice now and both story times the kids (well, most of them) were fascinated by the pictures. The unfortunate part is that the story starts and ends on the endpapers. This means the first and last pictures are obscured by the flaps, which in library books are taped down to avoid being lost. Blacks, grays, whites and blues are complemented with hints of silver, possibly inlaid into the page. The baby penguin is so adorable you can’t help but fall in love with him. If you’re penguin party is getting too raucous, calm them with this very soothing story.
Title: Virgil and Owen
Author/Illustrator: Paulette Bogan
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, a registered trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, c2015.
Some people get upset when penguins and polar bears are portrayed together in picture books, since polar bears and penguins live in different environments. According to Polar Bears International: “Although popular art and children’s books often show polar bears and penguins together, the two live at opposite poles. Polar bears live in the Arctic, a massive frozen sea surrounded by continents. Penguins live in Antarctica, an ice-covered continent surrounded by oceans.” But if librarians can read books about talking animals, giant red dogs, and other things that aren’t real, why can’t we suspend belief for just a moment and imagine that a polar bear and a penguin can be friends? Besides, no one seems to have a problem with the fact that seals have been known to eat penguins (and also apparently have sex with them my Google search results tell me… OH MY! Okay, back to the book, back to the book)
Bogan is simply suspending belief like those other authors, and she even somewhat explains the course of events if anyone bothered to look at the dedication page where we see a polar bear adrift on an ice flow heading straight for a penguin. It also explains the novelty of Owen’s existence, since penguins don’t normally come in contact with polar bears. Little details like Virgil dripping wet with snow on his face adds humor for observant readers, and it can serve as a discussion opportunity about sharing and friendship, especially after prompting children with questions like “Is Virgil happy in this picture?” Children recognize the fit Virgil pitches, even if the younger children may be unsure as to why.
The last three books listed I used for my penguin themed story time. I took an idea from Mel’s Desk and made a vertical story tube with seven different colored fish (from a less shocking Google search that directed me to ClipArt Panda) and paired it with a revised version of Marco the Polar Bear (I found it at Story Time Katie, who credits KidsSoup).
The reason it was revised was that the kids got so excited with the appearing fish that I cut the first verse and just repeated the second verse over and over, adding the color of the fish to the rhyme. To get rid of the fish, I saw Read Virginia had a great Feed the Penguin rhyme that I changed for different colors instead of numbers.
Feed the Penguin (adapted)
Penguin, penguin short and sweet
Would you like a fishy treat?
What color fish would you like
I think a ______ fish would taste just right!
That same website also gave me Five Royal Penguins, which I changed to little penguins, and the site adapted Five Little Monkeys (Jumping on the Bed) to Five Little Penguins. The different activities for each lyric were too much for my story time crew, so to get rid of the penguins that had accumulated we stuck with
Five little penguins playing in the snow.
One fell down and stubbed his/her toe
Mama called the doctor and the doctor said
“No more penguins playing on the snow.”
There are many, many more penguin books out there, the flightless fowl being a favorite of more than a few folks. What’s your favorite?