Penguin Problems

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Penguin Problems Book Poster Image
Cold, cranky penguin looks on the dark side in funny book.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information about life of penguins: Penguins live in cold climate, squawk, eat fish, have to avoid predators in ocean, waddle when walk, can't fly. Names of animals (penguin and walrus).

Positive Messages

Walrus delivers a message about importance of noticing and having gratitude for the good things in life, and Penguin takes it to heart for a short while but quickly reverts to feeling dark.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Penguin acknowledges and expresses his real feelings about the challenges he faces. But he's pretty cranky. Walrus looks on the bright side and advises Penguin to appreciate the beauty around him. 

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Penguin Problems, by Jory John (The Terrible Two) and illustrated by Lane Smith (Grandpa Green), is a funny story that appeals to the cranky kid in all of us. Penguin doesn't like snow, always feels cold and hungry, and finds day-to-day life on the ice way too challenging until wise old Walrus gives an (overlong) speech about the importance of appreciating the beauty around us. It's advice that works -- until it doesn't. This book, infused with wry humor, isn't for readers looking for comfort or a happy ending, though there's some emotional comfort and relief in being honest about one's feelings and fears.

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What's the story?

In PENGUIN PROBLEMS, when Penguin wakes up on a mound of snow, it's way too early and his beak is cold. The small complaints mount from there. He's bothered by the other penguins squawking, doesn't like the snow, and is hungry for fish, but the ocean's too cold and full of scary predators. Self-doubt sets in: He looks silly when he waddles and wants to fly but can't. And since all the other penguins look the same, he can't tell them apart! Suddenly Walrus arrives and gives a long speech about the beauty around them -- the mountains, the ocean, the blue of the winter sky -- and Penguin starts to notice those things, too. "Maybe things will work out after all!" But as large flakes of snow fall down, he reports that his beak is cold and it's dark way too early.

Is it any good?

Cranky kids and the irritable grown-ups who live with them might recognize themselves in this wryly funny story about a penguin who looks on the dark side even when it's blindingly bright out. Sure, Penguin's problems are "Penguin Problems," but humans can relate to a cold, cruel world that stirs up fears and insecurities. Sometimes it's hard to look beyond your own beak to the larger picture, and this book does propose a broader horizon, but it's no rosy cure-all. Walrus' full-page inspirational speech seems heavy because it contrasts so starkly with the spare, funny complaints on other pages. And, as with a well-meaning New Year's resolution, Penguin can't keep up his cheeriness for long.

Befitting a book about penguins, Lane Smith's art is heavy on black and white, so the pages have a bold, graphic feel, with other soft colors to brighten the landscapes. The penguin's eyes are expressive, revealing his fears and doubts. This knowing, witty look at penguin (and human) nature, is best for kids with an offbeat sense of humor.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the complaints penguin has in Penguin Problems. What are the challenges of being a penguin? Do you have complaints about your daily life like Penguin does? What are they?

  • Do you ever try to look on the bright side, as Walrus advises Penguin to do? Does it ever help you feel better?

  • If all penguins look alike, how do you think real penguins in the wild recognize one another and tell one another apart?

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