Book Reviews

So many books. So little time.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

Sometimes a book begins even before the story begins! A Penguin Story is one such. Would one expect any less from minimalist master Antoinette Portis?

One determined little penguin thinks that there is more in the world than the colors white, black and blue. "There is white ice for sliding," says Edna. "There is black night for seeing stars. There is blue for hunting fish. But there must be something else." (shades of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull). So she sets off on her quest to find other colors, as Jonathan Livingstone Seagull woke up every morning searching for something more than just breathing and eating. Will she find what she is looking for? Look carefully reader. The front endpapers are orange, but the back papers are green. Hint, hint.

The story is simply told, illustrated with the author/illustrator's signature black line drawing and sparse style. All the penguins look the same. Well, shouldn't all penguins look the same? Yes, but there are differences within species. All pelicans, for example, look the same, but look long enough and you can tell them apart. Here you almost feel the illustrator made a penguin template then varied the size, flipped them left and right, rotated them. That drawing simplicity matches the story style.

Then look again. Can you spot the twin penguins? Same but different. Children read visual clues, can spot similarities and differences easily. Edna has been walking for long they say. Look, it was night when she started the climb, and daytime by the time she started the sliding descent. And she ate the whole fish along the way. Ask them how they know and they will point to the skeleton she is carrying.

Edna falls into a snowbank. Is that what makes her see orange (like seeing red)? No. She has found the something else she was looking for. "Edna runs home as fast as she can", to call the other penguins to come see. Same long walk but the timeline is flipped around. The penguins start in the daytime and walk through the night. One could be forgiven for thinking that the big orange glow between the mountains they see at their journey's end is the rising sun, but no. It's a tent. A large orange tent that stands out in the white snowfields.

Everything in this world is orange: the tent, the clothes, the airplane.The penguins mill around; Edna is the only one who "pitches in" to help the researchers pack. Little penguin follows her, matching step for step. Large penguin, who had invited Edna to go fishing, true to form, is looking for food. The penguins may look like they have been drawn from a template, but they have their own different natures.

The perceptive young reader sees all this happening. They see also, the green ship steaming into the foreground as Edna, facing the other direction, wonders "what else could there be." A most satisfying ending to a simply told tale.

Title: A Penguin Story

Author: Antoinette Portis

Illustrator: Antoinette Portis

Publisher: Harper Collins

Hardback: 32 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-145688-6