… both French, he is a highly successful journalist, travel writer and author of novels, children’s books and comics; she is an acclaimed designer and illustrator. They have collaborated on several books, including 365 Penguins. Sadly, the translator is uncredited, but the (American) English version was published by Abrams in 2006.
In it, a family receive an unexpected parcel on New Year’s Day. It contains a penguin and an anonymous note:
“I’m number 1. Feed me when I’m hungry.”
The penguins keep coming; they’re cute at first but soon start to cause problems. How do you house them, feed them, clean them? And who’s sending them? And why?! Along the way, the family find themselves solving various mathematical problems in attempt to calculate their food requirements and storage solutions. By 31 December, their house is full of, you’ve guessed it, 365 penguins! One of them, named Chilly, has cute little blue feet. While they hold their New Year’s Eve party on the lawn the sender of the penguins turns up.
It’s Uncle Victor, the ecologist. He’s been so worried about the penguins losing their habitat that he decided to resettle them at the North Pole instead. As you can’t just export theatened species, he’s been sending them one at a time. Now he takes them off in his van, leaving just Chilly as a pet. Things get back to normal until one day a new parcel arrives…
Now, this is an odd one. I want to like it – it’s about penguins, and it sneakily teaches kids maths and a lesson about global warming. The illustrations are fun and very expressive. But, but, but, the whole thing sets my inner pedant screaming! What kind of ecologist would come up with such a harebrained and irresponsible plan? Given that the world is heating up, why would the penguins do any better at the North Pole anyway? And that’s without even considering the cruelty of sending an animal by post! (Yes, I know. But this stuff bothers me. See this old post here: On Thomas, the Little Red Train etc.)
And another thing, the actual book is enormous. It doesn’t fit in the bookcase and it’s very hard to hold with a wriggling child on your lap.
On the other hand, the boys love it. Spotting Chilly with his blue feet is an extra game and of course they don’t care in the least about the implausibility of it. Hopefully they will also pick up some of the mathsy stuff along the way.
Jolivet and Fromental seem to have made quite an industry out of penguins now and the pop-up book 10 Little Penguins looks charming too. Some pictures of the inside of the German edition can be seen here: fine fine books.