Being a penguin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in John and Smith’s debut collaboration.
A small penguin sleeping on a snow mound reluctantly wakes up, instantly exasperated with everything. Bemoaning the cold, the snow, and other things readers might take for granted as penguin pleasures, the protagonist heads off to begin a day full of one downer after another. The fish the penguin would like to eat for breakfast are disobliging about being caught; the ocean is too salty and cold, and it is inconveniently full of predators; and even the smallest things about being a penguin (waddling, flightlessness, and looking exactly like everyone else) are intolerably irritating. Increasingly outraged by a litany of injustices worthy of Judith Viorst’s classic grump Alexander, the penguin is offered a more balanced if somewhat lofty perspective by a walrus who suggests that, difficulties notwithstanding, the penguin is surrounded by beauty and love. Smith’s singular visual characterization follows through on John’s ironic humor throughout the narrative, and though both the visual and textual fall momentarily and appropriately flat when the walrus’ speech takes over an entire page, the penguin, who concedes the walrus’ point, nevertheless gets the last word in an admirable and important validation of personal feelings, grumbles and all.
Well-paced, bursting with humor, and charmingly misanthropic. (Picture book. 3-7)