Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Black and White and Black and White All Over

Penguins are adorable, absurd, and comical. With their little wobbly walk and their “tuxedo” coloring, just looking at them can bring a smile to your face. They also exhibit some pretty amazing and unique habits. Here are some penguin books to get you going:

For our youngest patrons, we have Penguins 1 2 3 by Kevin Schafer, which is a counting book, book in rhyme, and nature book. While counting the penguins, we learn about their favorite food and their habitat. Kevin Schafer writes about and photographs wildlife; the pictures of the penguins in snow and sliding on ice are National Geographic-style pictures. There’s a photograph of three penguins standing on ice illuminated by a setting sun. Another photograph shows 8 penguins sliding belly down on ice; the photograph covers two pages and emphasizes the barrenness of their land. The final photograph is of 12 penguins jumping into water; the black and white penguins framed by cliffs of white snow and a gorgeous sky-blue lake is absolutely gorgeous.

We also have Schafer’s Penguins A B C.

A prime book for Penguin Awareness Day (January 13th) is 365 Penguins, by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jölivet. When you start your New Year with a penguin delivered to your door, you know you’re in for a very weird year. Are you familiar with the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray finds himself going through the same day day after day? That’s the type of situation these poor folks are in. It’s cute at first, but it gets pretty wild (and crowded) very quickly. They hold family meetings to discuss the situation, they scramble to find storage for the penguins, and the penguins keep arriving. It’s finally December 31st. The house is crowded with penguins, so the family has their New Year’s celebration on their lawn. Being penguins, the houseguests are already dressed for the celebration; being characters written and illustrated by French authors and artists, the family is looking quite stylish. Also quite cold.

Uncle Victor makes a surprise appearance. Uncle Victor is an ecologist, and he comes bearing an explanation of why the penguins were sent to the family (which includes an environmental lesson). He carts the penguins off, except one, and the family breathes a sigh of relief. Until…ding dong!

365 Penguins is a ridiculous story with a serious message underlying the story. The illustrations are full of funny things to discover. The arithmetic sprinkled throughout the story is presented in a fun (and frantic) way.

Turning to nonfiction, we have Brenda Z. Guiberson’s The Emperor Lays An Egg. Rather than just laying out the facts of penguin fathercare, Guiberson incorporates a storytelling/read aloud mode that is fantastic for reluctant readers of nonfiction. The danger that is involved in bearing and caring for a baby penguin is absolutely apparent, as is the patient care given to the baby. The parenting behavior of male and female penguins is amazing; not only does dad stick around, which is rare in the animal kingdom, but the parents take turns caring for the baby, just like enlightened parents of the modern world. You’d almost expect to see them making their own baby food from vegetables and fruits grown in their organic garden. And so the circle of life turns, the baby grows, and the adult penguins are ready to welcome new babies. The illustrations are delightful, particularly of the mom and dad penguins rubbing their heads together, looking down at their baby. Awww.

When I saw that we had a poetry book about penguins, I knew I had to read it. When I looked at the cover of Antarctic Antics and saw that Judy Sierra was the author, I knew I had to read it immediately. Sierra based her poems on penguin behavior; poems deal with a penguin’s first swim (which make a great action rhyme), predators of penguins, belly sliding, and penguin courtship (“Be My Penguin” is so unashamedly precious without being gagworthy. You will submit to the cute!). If your child is facing a poetry reading assignment, check out Antarctic Antics.

We also have the audio recording and the animated video of the book.

We also have the March of the Penguins DVD (this is not a children's movie) and the official children's companion book to the movie.

Web sites:

Kevin Schafer’s Penguin Planet

Penguins Around the World

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