Author: Jonathan London
Illustrator: Julie Olson
Publisher: Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011
Genre: Picture book, fiction
Audience Age: 4 to 8
Themes, topics: Penguins, life cycle of penguins
Opening Sentences: When the Little Emperor of Antarctica crawled out of his cracked egg, he looked around with his wobbly head. He was cradled on his father’s feet!
Synopsis: Although this is told in story form, it is based on facts about how penguins raise their young. It begins, as you can see, with the fluffy grey baby penguin just emerging from the egg, and follows his growth until one day he is the adult male penguin cradling a baby on his feet to keep it warm.
The illustrations are realistic, yet are obviously meant to delight as well as teach, as is the text. We see how the mother and father take turns trudging over the ice to the open sea to get food both for themselves and for the growing baby, while the other parent keeps the baby warmly nestled between feet and stomach fold. We see how the little one gradually begins to spend more and more time with other young penguins, how he discovers swimming and catching his own food.
Some children may be disturbed by the sequence in which the little penguin is chased by a leopard seal, but thankfully — in the book at least — the penguin escapes. This sequence provides an opportunity to talk with children about the realities of the wild world.
The way the book comes full circle, to our little penguin grown up and becoming a father himself, is totally satisfying.
Activities/Resources: In 1981, when I was a leader of five year olds in the Scouting program (in Canada, they’re called Beavers), we made beavers from balloons and papier maché. The same process would lend itself nicely to making penguins.
Materials needed: regular-shaped balloons, strips of newspaper, flour and water paste (in bowls), construction paper, scissors, child-safe paint such as poster paint.
Blow up the balloons, not too big. Run the newspaper strips through the paste so they are thoroughly coated, and cover the balloon completely. Cut wing shapes and foot shapes from black construction paper. Stick wings to sides, and feet to bottom of balloon with strips of papier mache. Make a small beak shape from papier mache and push it onto the face area of the balloon penguin. Stand it on the large end to dry. When dry, paint like a penguin.
These are the 1981 balloon-and-papier-maché beavers drying on my kitchen table. If I could go back in time, I’d tidy the table before taking the picture, but at least the plate and the margarine tub give you some idea of size.
There are also a plethora of activities and crafts online. To learn more about Emperor Penguins, National Geographic Kids has a slideshow of information in their Creature Features.
Child Fun has amazing activities that are designed to highlight various subject areas.
The National Wildlife Federation has a very simple paper bag craft.
Danielle’s Place has fantastic crafts, and even penguin songs for kids to have fun with.
And because I love the British/Swiss stop-motion animated program about a delightful, strong-willed little penguin, Pingu, I’d invite you to have fun with the official Pingu site.
Availability: Readily available in hardcover, online or through your local independent bookstore.
Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”