Today is Day 20 of Picture Book Month. I'm beginning to realize that there's no way I can possibly share all the fantastic picture books I want to share this month -- which actually is a pretty great problem to have, since that means we have been reading some stellar stuff in preparation for this project. More riches to come in the days ahead, I promise!
Tonight I'm reminded of the importance of being different. Lots of picture books talk about difference and the various aspects of it -- how it's okay to be yourself, how unique points of view are a gift to all of us. And some books, like today's pick, help us understand how vital it can be to follow your own instincts, even when the crowd around you is going the opposite way. One of the things we really want for Sprout is that he have a strong sense of self, a sense that he maintains throughout the turbulent tween and teen years. So far so good, in that he doesn't mind swimming against the tide. Still, we want to strengthen that tendency in him, and we do that (how else!) by reading him loads of picture books that reinforce the message that different is pretty darn awesome.
Our pick for today is Antoinette Portis's A Penguin Story. It's an apt choice for this time of year, when all thoughts turn to snow and winter. We first read this one last summer, when Sprout saw it at the library and pounced. It's the kind of book I have a soft spot for, one about someone who's misunderstood by all her friends but ultimately vindicated in the end. Hmmm, maybe some childhood issues coming out there. . .
In this case, our someone is a penguin named Edna. Edna, like the rest of the penguins, knows three colors: white of snow and ice, black of nighttime, blue of sea and sky. But Edna feels, deep in her bones, that there's "something else", and while all the other penguins are doing various penguin-y activities, Edna is looking. The other penguins don't get her, and they constantly invite her to take part in what they're doing. But Edna won't stop looking -- and one day, her looking pays off.
Now here's where Portis could take the easy way out. Edna's found something, hooray! End of story. But no. Edna, bolstered by her find, can't stop there, and in the last spread we see her gazing out to the horizon, in search of even more "something else". But this time, she's not alone.
Oh, how I just want to scoop up every little one and thrust this book into their hands! This is a terrific story, simply told, with a powerful message about standing out and being genuine, even when doubters surround you. Young kiddos especially can benefit from this message, and here it is, complete with carefully considered narration and a character we can really root for. And the art is the stuff of preschool dreams: vibrant and full of geometric compositions that are endearingly smudged by falling snow. We are nearly as dazzled as Edna when she realizes that the something she seeks is truly there -- and that's no small feat for an artist to pull off. Kudo, Ms. Portis, kudos.
Penguins may not be the first critters that come to mind when we think about standing out from the crowd. But Edna, and her Penguin Story, prove that iconoclasts come in all shapes and sizes.
A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis, published by HarperCollins