Title: Penguin Problems
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Publisher: Walker Books
RRP: $24.99

Penguin wakes up in a bad mood. It is too early, the sun is too bright, and the other penguins are too noisy. Nothing seems to be going right for him. He looks for food, only to be hunted by various animals. When he exclaims loudly ‘I have so many problems’, a walrus enters and points out the positive aspects of Penguin’s life and surroundings. Penguin takes this on board, until the day ends too quickly and his beak is cold.

This is an effective look at positive thinking and taking for granted what you already have, or not in this Penguin’s case. The verbal text is succinct and clearly shows Penguin’s nature. I am sure young readers will be able to identify with waking up in a dark mood! The large format illustrations are clear and uncluttered. Smith has used a marbling type effect that suits the setting of the cold environment. The colour palette is restricted to mostly black, orange, white, various shades of blue and the occasional yellow for the sun. It is sparse, mirroring the environment in which Penguin lives. The verbal text is in a different colour for each narrator and Penguin addresses the reader in a metafictional aspect several times. With no borders on these pages the viewer is effectively brought into the story. Frames are used in other ways throughout, such as a double page spread divided into four sections when Penguin searches for his parents and one page divided into four when he shows how he waddles when he walks. This technique slows the reading and increases the level of humour.

Line and direction are used to effect. Line is used to promote movement and the power of Penguin’s exclamations. A few simple strokes can say much more than verbal text. Direction is used several times to influence the reader to move left to right through the story.

Angles and viewpoint are used in a variety of ways, again successfully involving the audience in the narrative. The black end papers echo the dark mood we find Penguin experiencing.

I can read this book over and over again. It is refreshing each time and Penguin is such a character. I am sure young viewers will be able to relate to him in many ways. The collaboration of visual and verbal texts work extremely well in every way.

Suggested activities:

  • Have children list things they have in their life they can be grateful for, or positive about.
  • Using openings 5 and 6 (double page spreads) discuss food chains. What do these animals eat? How do they hunt? Make a food chain of sea animals.
  • Research various sea animals and where they live.
  • Research different habitats. What is the climate, landscape, vegetation like? What animals live there and what do they need to survive?
  • Research penguins. On a world map, show where they live. How have they adapted to live in these areas?
  • Research flightless birds.
  • Make a penguin using the Penguin Activity Time from the Little Big Book Club (PDF downloads automatically.)

Suitable story time themes:

  • Penguins
  • Feelings

Thank you to Walker Books for supplying this book for review.