Forget all about Knut the polar bear and his friends. Now it's the penguins who are taking over the kids' rooms, and there are two marvellous new books in which these entertaining characters in their evening dress play a leading role.
The picture book "Penguin" by the English artist Polly Dunbar is all about feelings and especially friendship. For his birthday the young Ben is given a Penguin as a present. He's really happy about his new playmate but the Penguin doesn't respond in any way to all of Ben's attempts to make friends with him. Ben sings and dances and tries to make Penguin laugh, but everything is in vain -- Penguin doesn't say a word! In the end Ben loses his temper and tries to annoy Penguin. Even that doesn't succeed -- Penguin still doesn't say a word! Finally however there is still a surprising happy ending for the two of them after all, showing that friendship doesn't need many words.
In Polly Dunbar 's wonderfully simple and impressive drawings young Ben is shown expressing a whole range of different feelings. The expressiveness which is created by a few brushstrokes is remarkable. Penguin also endears himself to us immediately. The artist does without any backgrounds and the drawings are limited to the bare essentials. The book contains relatively few short texts but these are all the more important for being so short. They have been translated into German with loving care and delicacy by Germany's best known and most popular author of books for children and young people, Kirsten Boie. This is a wonderful book and entirely suitable for children as young as two years of age. They will soon be repeating enthusiastically the text "Penguin says nothing" which appears at the end of each page.
Our next book also deals with penguins, but here it's not just a single penguin but no less than 365 of them! This is why the book is simply called "365 penguins". On New Year's Day a family receives a parcel containing a penguin and a note saying ' I am number one, please feed me'. However, this is only the beginning. From now on every day a new penguin arrives asking for help. In the end there are 365 of them -- one for every day of the year. After only a short time the poor family doesn't know where to put all these penguins, and it doesn't take long before their new black-and-white guests get up to all sorts of tricks, turning the whole life of the family into chaos. Soon the house is full to bursting point, truckloads of fresh fish have to be ordered and everybody is asking themselves the question 'Where do all these penguins come from'? This question is answered at the close of the story when uncle Victor Emanuel, the ecologist, arrives. So in the end the book stimulates debate about environmental matters, but in a light-hearted and entertaining way, and without being dogmatic.
This book for children is something really special. It's not just the extremely large format and the excellent quality of the book which make a strong impression but above all the witty story and the entertaining pictures of the penguins as they create their chaos. A further special feature of the book is that many mathematical tasks and pictures for counting are integrated in a playful way (and always with the right answer at the end of the page).
The illustrations, too, are outstanding, even though only the colours black, white, blue and orange are used. Although this sounds highly unusual the effect is really impressive. For me this is one of the most attractive children's books of the year.
"Penguin" by Polly Dunbar
Walker Books Ltd.
"365 penguins" by J.L. Fromental and J. Jolivet
Abrams Books for Young Readers