We are not unkeen on penguins here (heck, there’s even a penguin running our computer), so when Dani of the Literary Gift Company left a comment for me suggesting we might enjoy 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet I couldn’t resist finding out more.
When the book arrived through the post, it was as if it were my birthday – the book is unusually large (almost A3 sized), beautifully printed on heavy glossy paper, and (hooray!) it doesn’t have a dust jacket (One of my pet peeves when it comes to kids’ books is the issue of dust jackets – in our house books are to be read, and played with, and taken to bed, and even used sometimes as building material. They are not going to sit quietly on a shelf collecting dust from which they need to be protected.)
All this added up to the book feeling like a solid present, a real gift, and that was before I had even opened it and read it with the family. And yet things did get even better when we sat down with this irreverent but informative quirky story of 365 Penguins…
New Year’s Day sees the arrival, at a family home, of an anonymous parcel containing a single penguin. Each day (for what turns out to be a whole year) another parcel arrives, and with each parcel new problems accrue. At first the problems are not so serious (what names should the family give the penguins?), but as the number of penguins rises, the family’s problems multiply. There are storage issues, there is the cost of feeding the animals and the noise, to say nothing of the smell. There are penguins every where!
When the year of penguin parcels is up, it transpires that they have been sent to the family in a (rather misguided) attempt to save them from dying out through loss of habitat – the family’s Uncle is an ecologist and…
As you know, the planet is heating up. The ice caps are melting. Year after year, these lovely birds of the South Pole see their territory get smaller and smaller. To increase their chances of survival, I decided to introduce them to the North Pole. But unfortunately, you can’t export endangered species. So I found an expensive but secret way: sending one penguin a day to your family during one year.
Uncle Victor is then seen leaving with all but one of the penguins, much to the family’s relief. It would seem that the family’s problems are all over …but then the next day the postman arrives at the family’s front door with a much larger parcel…
This absurd, over-the-top story made all of us giggle and laugh. It also made us stop and think – not only is the book full of opportunities to learn or practise all sorts of mathematical concepts (the number of days in a week/month/year, addition, multiplication, 3 dimensional shapes to name but a few), it also led to a discussion about animal habitats and climate change. Serious issues along side a serious dose of silliness and fun – what a great combination!
As well as having a meaty story to chew over, this book is delicious because of the amazingly zingy illustrations. The limited palette (black, white, grey, orange and brown), along with the rather stylized illustrations gives this book a fresh yet retro feel – it reminded me of some Bernice Myers books, such as Gravity All Around. The size of the book makes it difficult to read with only one free hand, or in bed, but actually the larger than life format of this book matches its contents perfectly.
One of the big problems the family faces when inundated with all these penguins is how to store them. They try stacking them, then they file them away in boxes of a dozen, then they build a cube out of them – and these storage solutions provided us with a great opportunity to craft and play.
First we made quite a lot of penguins (not quite 365, but still rather a lot) out of polystyrene cups. We painted them (we had to use acrylic paint as our regular poster paint wouldn’t stick to the cups), stuck on googly eyes and orange beaks. As we’re still having lots of grey days here, we opted for colourful, if atypical looking, penguins.
Once our penguins were ready to march we tried our hand at storing them every which way.
M and I had a lot of fun adding, subtracting and counting our penguins, plus lots of practice at concentrated placing of the penguins to build up our stacks.
365 Penguins: *** (3 stars)
We’ve been listening to:
Here’s some more penguin art and play we like:
For more kids’ literature with a maths flavour, take a look at this selection from Open Wide, Look Inside.
At the risk of boosting Amazon’s sales yet further, what books are any of you reading at the moment with your kids which you think we would enjoy here at Playing by the book?