About the Holiday
Today’s holiday marks a milestone in the search for peaceful and productive cooperation among nations. Commemorating the 1959 signing of the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed by 12 countries and set aside nearly 10% of Earth “forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes….” Antarctica Day was established in 2010 and is now an annual event, with activities held within schools, science organizations, governmental organizations, and other institutions across more than 25 participating countries. According to the Foundation for the Good Governance of International Spaces, Antarctica Day is “an opportunity to demonstrate how diverse nations can work together peacefully, continuously using science as a global language of cooperation for decision making beyond national boundaries.”
Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Lane Smith
A little penguin lies flat out on a snow bank. It’s morning, which is “way too early.” To top it off his “beak is cold” and there’s a bunch of squawking coming from a hoard of other penguins nearby. As the penguin starts his day, he trudges through snow that’s deeper than it was yesterday, and the little guy doesn’t “even like the snow.” Ugh! The sun is too sunny, and the fish don’t even have the courtesy to jump out of the water into his beak! He has to wade into the freezing water where he just sinks like a stone.
Down in the darkest depths he comes face to teeth with an orca. “Oh, great.” A leopard seal nips at his feet (“Oh, great.”), and a shark has his sharpened fangs ready to chomp (“Oh, great.”)! All that swimming around has left the poor penguin hungry and his flippers exhausted. He waddles up an iceberg to safety, but, ya know, that brings up something else—the penguin decides he waddles too much and thinks he looks “silly when he waddles.” What do you think? Look! He wobbles to the left; he wibbles to the right; he rocks back into place. “See?” Really, it would be so much better if he could fly—but those tiny wings just flap up and down ridiculously. Look! “See?”
And another thing: every other penguin looks exactly like him! And he looks just like every other penguin! Don’t think so? Watch—he thinks he sees someone he knows over there. “Mum?” Awww! That’s so sweet. I’ll bet he gets a big hug. Here it comes…: “I literally have no idea who you are.” Ouch! That does hurt! Wait! There’s his dad. Phew! This time he’ll get a chuck on the…umm…shoulder for sure. “I literally have no idea what you’re talking about. My name is Mortimer.” Yikes!
The little penguin gives vent to his feelings: “I have so many problems! And nobody even cares!” The penguin stands dejectedly under the full weight of his loneliness when he feels a tap on the…umm…shoulder. He turns to see a walrus behind him. “Good afternoon,” the walrus greets him. It seems that he has been watching, and he has a message, “I sense today has been difficult, but lo! Look around you, Penguin. Have you noticed the way the mountains are reflected in the ocean like a painting? Have you gazed up on the blue of that cloudless winter sky, my friend?”
The wise walrus goes on to point out the warmth of the sun and his adoring penguin brothers, sisters, and elders. He admits that there are challenges, and that all creatures face difficult times. “But hear me now, my new friend: I wouldn’t trade my life for any other, and I am quite sure you wouldn’t, either.” In fact, he suggests “you are exactly where you need to be.” With an abrupt goodbye the walrus flops his way back home across the snow.
The penguin is flabbergasted by the audacity of a walrus trying to explain penguin problems. “Who the heck was that guy?! He exclaims to some nearby brothers, sisters, and elders. But he sighs and sits down in the shadow of the mountain and thinks. He does actually “love the mountains. And the ocean. And the sky.” He agrees that he has family and friends and has only one home. He sits on the top of a high snowbank and reflects on his life until night falls and the stars appear. But really…his “beak is cold.” And ya know? “It gets dark way too early.”
Jory John impeccably captures those days (weeks? months? …?) when the grumbles take over, and even the sun seems “too bright.” As one quibble builds on another, the wry grousing of the disgruntled penguin adds up to a sardonic comic routine that will make kids laugh out loud. The intervention of the walrus is likewise hilarious as he lectures the penguin at length like some old-age guru holding court. With perfect pitch John lets the penguin revel in life’s gifts for an hour or two before returning to his true nature.
Lane Smith’s penguin, at turns dumbfounded, resigned, self-conscious, rejected, flummoxed, and reflective, is so adorable readers cannot help but empathize. The small black-and-white figure of the penguin set against the pages of white snowdrifts highlights his singular dissatisfaction, while the softly mottled depictions of his underwater misadventure and escape, meeting with the garrulous walrus, and moment of contemplation enhance the humor.
Keeping Penguin Problems on any child’s bookshelf is the perfect remedy for days when the doldrums hit, a charm for days that are giggly, and a delight for any day in between.
Ages 3 – 8
Random House Books for Young People, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553513370
Discover more books by Jory John and what’s coming next on his website!
View a gallery of picture book illustration and other artwork by Lane Smith on his website!
Antarctica Day Activity
Antarctic Animals Coloring Sheets
Antarctica is home to some of the world’s cutest and best-loved animals. Here are three printable coloring sheets for you to have fun with!
Emperor Penguin | Orca | Walrus and Pup
Picture Book Review