Penguin, a lovely story about friendship, loyalty and toddler tantrums, includes characters that children can identify with. My daughter was very excited to find the German translation ‘Sag doch was!’ in the library, it’s great to read a well loved story in another language.
The Story: Ben opens his present to find Penguin. He talks constantly to him, he tickles him and makes faces but Penguin doesn’t answer when he is spoken to. There is still no response when Ben prods him and teases him so they ignore each other before Ben fires Penguin into outer space. Penguin comes back and still doesn’t say a word! Ben gets really mad with Penguin and tries to feed him to Lion but Lion eats Ben instead. Penguin rescues Ben from Lion and finally he starts talking.
Despite the fact that Penguin doesn’t speak to Ben for most of the story he does help Ben when he is in trouble and gives him a lovely hug at the end. Small children will identify with Ben’s frustrations and this story effectively demonstrates that getting cross and impatient doesn’t get you what you want. The more Ben shouts, the more Penguin ignores him and eventually Ben’s bad behaviour leads to him being eaten by Lion (we love the way that Penguin rescues Ben but we won’t spoil the surprise!). Ben’s range of emotions, from delight to sheer frustration, are effectively captured in the illustrations and I love the page where Ben is upset, five different Bens show different phases of his tantrum including tears. It is a great book to use with a child to talk about different emotions – How do you think Ben feels when Penguin doesn’t speak to him? How do you feel when you get cross? Can you show me a cross / happy / upset face?
The simple text is easy to read and the repetition is great for beginner readers. I love the bold pictures on a predominantly white background. Most of the story is told through the illustrations which encourages children to make their own silly faces, do their own dizzy dancing and choose their own silly songs. When Penguin finally speaks it is shown in a huge speech bubble full of wonderfully colourful pictures which recap all the actions from the story and enable a child to retell it in their own words. My daughter’s favourite picture shows Ben’s legs hanging out of Lion’s mouth but she has never been scared of Lion eating Ben, Lion is cuddly, blue and not at all scary. One interpretation of the story could be that Lion is one of Ben’s soft toys, which is why there is no real threat from him. Penguin could also be a toy but although they may not be ‘real’ animals they are very ‘real’ to a small child who treats inanimate objects as real and alive.
A lovely, beautifully illustrated, simple story with characters and a situation which children (and parents!) can easily identify with.
Age Range: 2 +
Author / Illustrator: Polly Dunbar