Penguin multiplication

posted in: Jean-Luc Fromental, Joelle Jolivet | 31
Photo: suneki

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:

  • Preludes, Airs And Yodels, a great album by Penguin Café Orchestra
  • Do the funky penguin by Rufus Thomas
  • Penguin Geometry, a song for piano and voice written by John Duke, sung here by Lauralyn Kolb
  • The Fairy Penguin Strut by The Wayfarers

  • Here’s some more penguin art and play we like:

  • A penguin experiment from itty bitty love – if you click through to just one thing from this post make it this link as it’s such a fun idea!
  • Kitchen and toilet roll penguins from Kids Craft Weekly (you’ll need to scroll down the “Birds” newsletter to item #4)
  • A penguin place mat and picture books from No Time for Flashcards
  • A pastel penguin from Art Projects for Kids

  • 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?

    31 Responses

    1. Tricia

      This is still one of William’s favorite books, despite the fact that he’s moved on to chapter books. I love the retro look, he loves the story. He also loves contemplating the arrival of polar bears each day.

      For another nice penguin book, have you seen A PENGUIN STORY by Antoinette Portis (author of NOT A BOX)?

    2. Natalie

      I am visiting your blog from StArt and blown away 🙂 This post is so informative, and I am amazed that you could create so many penguins. I am definitely going to subscribe from now on and look for the book as well.

    3. Catherine

      omg, I’m going to have to track down this book – just what I love, who cares what my children think.
      My son is enjoying Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base which has a similar environmental thems to 365 Penguins and also a maths element.

    4. Janelle

      So many colorful penguins! It must have taken a while to make them but they do look like fun to stack. The book reminds me a little of Mr. Poppin’s Penguins…family ends up taking care of penguins in their home plot.

    5. Zoe

      Catherine and Janelle – Thanks for your book tips. I look forward to finding the books!

      Julie and Natalie – yeah, quite a lot of penguins! But with a little assembly line of 3 it didn’t take too long. I have to say having all the different colours helped keep the girls interested. If all they had been painting was black I don’t think we’d have managed to make as many!

    6. Sarah N.

      The cup penguins are great! We love 365 Penguins, especially little Chilly 🙂 If you haven’t read Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis, you should check it out. We love all her books. Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett and Night Rabbits by Monica Wellington are current favorites here.

    7. Kellyi

      This is my favourite post so far 🙂

      I love the stacking ones. It would totally appeal to my boys, and since winning a toy penguin in a raffle, there has been a whole lot of penguin love in our house.

      Off to see if the library have that book…

    8. Margaret Perry

      This book made me laugh out loud in the middle of a very queit library–I’m so glad you posted about it. And I just love your idea of making the penguins! Brilliant!

    9. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Kelly,

      Yes, I think this book would be right up your street I really do. I do hope your library has a copy!

      Hi Margaret,

      It is a fun read, isnt’ it. I particularly like the section about “becoming penguin” 🙂

    10. Katie

      Hi Zoe!

      I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I just did this craft at the library I work at with my preschool craft program. They went *crazy!* They loved it so much, and the parents asked me to thank you for such a wonderful craft tied-in to the book. So, thanks a lot!

      • Zoe

        Yes Dani – we had lots of fun with it! Thanks so much for suggesting it 🙂

    11. Maggy

      LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!!! WIll be making these when Red Ted is older! (And we have the book too!)

    12. Zoe

      Thanks Rebecca. I can’t believe it’s already 2 years since we did this. The book is out most weeks here, and is also a big hit at the school where I read.
      Zoe recently posted..Kidlit on the radio #8

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