• Esther Harder

Toddler Takes: Oliver Jeffers and The Boy + His Penguin

I've decided to bring my picture book reading team (toddler + me) to the blog to do some reviews of our favorite read-alouds. Here's our latest!

The Books

I was aware of Oliver Jeffers as the illustrator for The Day the Crayons Quit series. But we came across this series about the boy and the penguin simply because Lost and Found showed up in its Spanish version in a Mexican bookstore, and since our toddler was into penguins at the time, we grabbed it. We loved Lost and Found so much that we then looked for more and discovered Up and Down as well as The Way Back Home.

One day, a penguin shows up on the boy's doorstep, Lost and Found begins. And from there, it's a journey to try to make the penguin happy. (Though it turns out that there was no need for a journey at all.)

In The Way Back Home, the boy decides to take his airplane out for a spin and ends up crash-landing, out of gas, on the moon. A martian who took his spaceship for a spin also makes a moon landing due to engine trouble. How will they get home?

In Up and Down, the penguin and the boy have become best buddies and do everything together, until the penguin decides he needs to do something on his own: learn to fly. Antics and a high-flying rescue ensue.

My Take

I could keep reading these books all day long because I love the combination of the illustrations and the spare text. Jeffers creates slightly melancholy looks on both the penguin and the boy, which makes them all the more huggable. The color schemes are slightly unexpected but totally work to emphasize important parts of the scene. As for the text, all of these books work in a comedy of errors approach, so the very direct text accompanied by the hilarity in the illustration create quite an impact. For example, in Lost and Found, the boy consults a variety of sources to learn where penguins live, including a flock of doves, who, unsurprisingly, have nothing to say. And the follow-up to this image is the line: Some birds are like that.

There are some fun carry-overs in the illustrations from book to book. There's a cupboard of helpful items, in which the boy's plane appears as a hint. Later in Up and Down, the boy offers the penguin the use of the plane in order to fly, but the penguin wants to fly with its own power, and the boy admits that the plane is still having trouble (maybe from crash-landing on the moon?). And even though the plot of The Way Back Home has nothing to do with the penguin, he does make a cameo.

Toddler Take

These stories, particularly Lost and Found and The Way Back Home, have plots my toddler can retell. He calls them his “niño y pingüino” books (boy and penguin). One of his favorite parts is that Lost and Found starts with the familiar “once upon a time” sequence that he's been learning for other bedtime stories. So, already on page one, he can “read” the book to me. And he enjoys searching for the penguin when the boy and the penguin separate for a few pages.

The Way Back Home was my toddler's first martian adventure, but he has a glow-in-the-dark moon shirt, so he was fascinated by the boy and “the green boy” spending time together on the moon with their two vehicles. Moon! Airplane! Spaceship! All the interesting things in the sky!

The plot of Up and Down, is based on the irony that penguins can't fly, so this premise is a little above our heads yet. My toddler spends his time with this book in pointing out the various pages where the penguin is trying to fly.

Take-Aways

These are a cute, fun addition to our shelf. And they get requested a lot!

In researching a little for this post, I noticed there is an anthology version that includes behind-the-scenes notes and sketches about the creation of this series. Always interesting to get the writer's insights.


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