Title: Penguin Problems Author: Jory John Illustrator: Lane Smith Publisher: Walker Books
Penguin is having a bad day. It’s early, his beak is too cold, and the other penguins are too noisy. Nothing can make him happy.
When he goes hunting the sea is too salty and too dark, and orcas, leopard seals and sharks all see him as their tea.
It takes the wise words of Walrus to get Penguin to look again at his world and see the beauty in the mountains, the clarity of the sky and the fact that he is loved by his fellow penguins.
Penguin finally decides that perhaps things aren’t so bad after all and that things might work out (but his beak is still cold).
Penguin Problems is a lovely book with quite a profound message. Through a very humorous story it teaches us to appreciate what we have, and to look beyond the problems in our life to see the beauty of the world around us. Lane Smith’s clear illustrations are both charming and funny. Never has a penguin looked so grumpy and yet so cute.
Most of the text is short and snappy, but the words of wisdom from Walrus takes a whole page. When I read this story to two Reception classes, this long section caused the children to lose focus, and there was fidgeting. If only Walrus could have been more succinct and pithy – I ended up summarising this page when reading it to other classes, in order to keep the children focused. But this was the only negative point in an otherwise fantastic book.
We passed the book around the staffroom and discussed ways we could use it in teaching. There are strong links to habitats and we felt it would be a great starting point for a topic about the Arctic, as the cold, dark, harsh life of an Arctic animal is very clearly portrayed.
There is also an opportunity to use it as part of work on food chains. There is a lovely illustration where the orca is trying to eat the shark, the shark is trying to eat the leopard seal and the leopard seal is trying to catch poor old Penguin.
As a Catholic school, we also felt there was potential for using the book as part of work looking at “beauty, detail and order in creation”, and whether we are all where we are for a reason.
But the area where we felt it would most be useful was in PSHE. The book is a great starting point for a lesson about emotions. Penguin is grumpy, cross and fed up. He feels alone, and this affects how he feels about his whole world. It takes Walrus to make him appreciate what he has and see beyond his negativity. We would therefore use the book to spark a discussion about negative emotions and ways of dealing with them. This discussion would then lead into some writing about what makes us unhappy and what makes us happy.
Sarah Ormes is school librarian at St John's Catholic Primary School, in Bath
Ducklings, one of our Reception classes, all enjoyed the book.
Daisy said, rather profoundly: "It was about a grumpy penguin. I liked when Walrus said that the mountains are beautiful, because the mountains actually are beautiful."
Ollie also focused on the message from Walrus: "The penguin was really worried. Walrus said to look at the beautiful sun."
Daisy was more of a cynic, and enjoyed the fact that Penguin still finds something to complain about on the last page. "The book was good,” she said. “I liked when he was still grumpy at the end."
Maja, meanwhile, took a more upbeat view: "It was so good because I liked when Penguin got happy again."
A lovely book, which we all enjoyed, even if we wished that Walrus had had a better editor.
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