posted in: Polly Dunbar | 5

reading-my-libraryHow many library books do you think you’ve read with your kids in the last year? I’ve always imagined that we’re big users of our local library, but then I came across Reading My Library – Carrie is aiming to read every single one of the children’s picture books in her local library in the next 12-24 months! Now that to me sounds like a great challenge and an exciting adventure, and as I’m always on the look-out for new ways to find great kids’ books I thought I’d (admittedly rather loosely) incorporate her approach into our own library visits.

So working through the shelves J pulled down Penguin by Polly Dunbar, who we’d come across previously when we read (and enjoyed) Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy. Penguin won the Booktrust Early Years Awards in pre-school category and the silver award in the Nestle Children’s Book Prize for children under five years old in the year it was first published (2007) so all the signs pointed towards us taking this book home and having fun reading it. And that is exactly what we did.

Ben ripped open his present.
Inside was a penguin.
“Hello, Penguin!” said Ben.

“What shall we play?” said Ben.
Penguin said nothing.

Ben tries everything to get his lovely new stuffed toy friend to talk to him – he tickles his penguin, he sings a silly song, he stands on his head. But all to no avail. Ben becomes a little frustrated and pokes fun at Penguin but this also fails to provoke a response. More drastic action is required.

When even firing penguin into outer space doesn’t work, Ben gives up and tries to feed his present to a passing lion. However, the lion doesn’t play ball; he refuses to eat the penguin. Poor Ben is exasperated and finally yells furiously at the penguin and then… something truly terrible happens!


Quite what occurs is best left to enjoy when you read this book, but suffice it to say that this calamitous event finally spurs the penguin into action, catastrophe is averted, and in his own way, Penguin finally does what Ben has wanted all along and all’s well that ends well.

This story, with its twist initially reminiscent of something out of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales, is simply and beautifully told by Polly Dunbar. What I love is that it perfectly captures that childhood belief that your soft toys are “real”, balancing rational fact (as adults we know that these are, after all, inanimate objects) with youthful hope and optimism, the latter being richly rewarded. The illustrations are uncluttered and simple (like the text); the interaction between the characters becomes the focus with virtually no background or visual setting to give away their location. The large expanses of white page surrounding the characters instead ensure the sparse use of colour is particularly effective. So all in all, in this household we all agree that Penguin is most definitely a worthy award winner, and a must-read for families with young children.

Inspired by the eponymous penguin, we set to making our own penguin colony. Here’s how we did it:

1. We gathered:

  • some cotton wool
  • black paint
  • PVA glue
  • white paper cut into small roundish shapes
  • a potato roughly penguin body shape, with one side sliced off to give a smooth, flat printing surface
  • some googly eyes
  • orange construction paper cut into small triangles
  • some coloured pencils
  • A sheet of white card (or paper)
  • penguin_materials

    2. We mixed up some black paint with PVA glue and then used the potato to make black blobs all over the sheet of card.


    3. Before the black glue/paint mix dried we stuck the white roundish paper on to the black potato prints to create the penguins’ tummies.


    4. Again, before the glue had time to dry we added eyes to each of the penguins….

    5. …. and then beaks

    6. To complete the penguins we draw some feet and flippers (M insisted on being anatomically incorrect – “MY penguins have *long* legs”).


    We used pencils rather than pens because when the pencil tips got a bit of paint/glue on them it was easier to wipe off than if we had used felt tips.

    7. The penguin landscape was covered in snowy cotton wool, stuck down with some more PVA glue.


    Admittedly I prepared the tummies and beaks in advance, but even so, this was still a quick and easy craft with instant results. Originally I had wanted to use potatoes to print all parts of the penguins, but I realised that the girls would get very bored waiting for the paint to dry before printing the next part of the penguin (which would have been necessary for the paint not to mix and turn everything black). I think individual penguins could work well as christmas cards, especially if you added a couple of silver stars or a bit of glitter. Alternatively you could use brown paint and red tummies and make robins.

    penguin_frontcover Penguin: 3star (We bought our own copy this week for £1.99 from The Works)

    Whilst making the penguins we’ve been listening to Happy Feet’s soundtrack and the totally raucous but and fun Antarctica by The Dreadnoughts. Other penguin inspired activities we’ve noted for future crafty sessions include:

  • A penguin fridge magnet made from egg cartons by Crafty Crafted
  • A pumpkin penguin (!) by Wyldhare’s Hollow
  • A cute felt penguin by Crafty Daisies
  • Finally, we’d love to hear what books, songs and crafts about penguins you and your kids love…so over to you now!

    5 Responses

    1. Carrie, Reading My Library

      Thanks for the link! I linked back today to point people over to your AMAZING penguins! That is an absolutely awesome craft! I’m extremely impressed. Thanks for sharing about what you’ve done with your books. I’m having such a good time scrolling through your site.

    2. Maureen

      Wow! This is a real cliffhanger post. What ‘something truly terrible happens’ to the penguin and Ben??
      I can’t bear not knowing, so I suspect I’ll have to track down this book to find out the truth.
      Maureen Hume.

    3. Kristine

      I remember thinking I could read through the library too when I was working my way through the B section as a kid (mostly Judy Blume and Enid Blyton books). I think as a mother you have to find a balance between introducing new books and re-reading favourites over and over and over. The re-reading helps with pre-reading awareness that text always stays the same and leads to that important early stage of reading a memorised book and the accompanying feeling of success “I’m a reader”.
      The girl’s penguins are cute – each penguin has it’s own little personality.

      Thanks for your comment on my blog – I appreciate it, I left a question for you if you get a chance to return.

    4. Ashley

      Love those penguins! We love “Lost and Found” by Oliver Jeffers in our house and are currently enjoying “Peekaboo Penguins” which is a lovely touchy feely book with a counting theme.

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