Thursday, October 29, 2009


Image credit: Amazon
Author/Illustrator: Melanie Watt
Suggested Age Group: 4-8
Publisher, Year:
Kids Can Press; Reprint edition (August 1, 2008)
Country/Continent: Antarctica/Arctic

See that adorable penguin on the front cover? That is Augustine. She lives in the South Pole, but her father just got a new job at the North Pole, and now the family has to move cross-planet.

So with Picaso (her toy penguin) for company and mom for help, she starts to pack her things in and labels them with purple stars. But, as her mom says, that's only the "tip of the iceberg." The packing really is only the tip of the iceberg in a move, isn't it? It is what comes after. First come the tearful goodbyes to her loved ones - cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, teachers. Then the journey. Augustine boards Penguin Air and heads for the Arctic. A long plane ride later, the family arrives at what will be their new home.

Everything is new here. They are aliens in a foreign land. They are one of the few of their kind. There are Arctic hares, seals, polar bears, puffins, but penguins? Not so many. There are more differences than commonalities with the natives ("My accent is so different"). The only thing common - the snow - reminds her so much of home, and home is Antarctica.

Does any of this sound familiar? It did, to the immigrant in me. Right from the separation from everything that was near and dear and familiar, to landing in a country far, far away and feeling like an alien - yes, it felt very familiar. It appealed to my son too, who still remembers every detail of our big cross country move from a year ago. He now knows what it feels like to move to a place where you know no one and have to make friends from scratch. That one factor hooked us both to the book.

For Augustine, the worst is yet to come. She has to start school and she doesn't know anyone. We feel her anguish and completely understand when she wants to hide in her closet on the first day of school. But thanks to her parents, she makes it to school and greets her classmates who don't really make any effort to talk to her. At recess, she feels left out while the others play ball, and we feel like reaching out and giving her a hug. We wonder how she's going to cope.

Oh, but she does, and she does it with finesse. Her skill draws her classmates to her and she wins them over in a short span of time. By the end of the book, we see a cheerful penguin in the arms of two special people who make a surprise appearance.

What works best is the first person voice. We hear the story in Augustine's words and it connects us directly with her character, almost as if we're reading her personal blog! Despite the heaviness of the topic, the author keeps the tone light and never misses chance to sneak in a pun or two. Eg: Penguin Air's slogan is "Now penguins can fly too!", and they have fish sandwich for lunch and goldfish crackers for snack. My son loved these little penguin-y details thrown in; not all of it is said in the text, most of it is hidden in the illustrations.

Which brings us to the illustrations. They are simple color sketches that convey so much emotion and character. Look for Augustine's own drawings on every spread, the ones which she signs with an "A." She is named after the Pierre Auguste Renoir, so it is no coincidence that her art is mature for her age and sometimes reference famous paintings. Her portrayal of her new teacher will look familiar to anyone who's seen the Mona Lisa. You might find her self portrait drawn the night before school, eerily similar to Edvard Munch's Scream.

To those of us living between the poles, Antarctica may seem as desolate as the Arctic. But as Melanie Watt shows us, to a penguin, the difference is a whole world. All it takes is a little bit of skill, and one can adapt to the cold, foreign land to make it a warm, comfortable home.


SoulSpace said...

How I can identify with this let alone children....
I got a lump in my throat just reading the review, so wonder how the story will move me...
Penguiny very cute
Lovely pick...

Poppins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Poppins said...

I realise that I had read it in the drafts (greedy me) and that's why it was so familar :)

Very poignant story, sad but oh so familiar.

B o o said...

Lovely review. God, I want to buy every one of the books you all ve reviewd until now. I ve already ordered 5 books from Ashus school library.

B o o said...

Btw, whos the author? cant make it out from the cover.

ranjani.sathish said...

Kodi's mom, this is such a wonderful book...and your review of it is beautiful indeed ! you have conveyed the feelings of the book very well.

Praba Ram said...

What a "moving" tale, KM! I have to check this one out. I have a gut feeling my daughters will relate to it as much as you and your kids have been able to - thanks to the several moves in our lives. A penguin to convey the feelings and emotins - wow! One can't get enough of penguins, right?
Great one for Antarctica!!! Thnks, KM!

Choxbox said...

Sounds ultra cute K's Mom. And, a lot of us can identify with Augustine :( :)

Meera Sriram said...

KM, you have done a wonderful job with the reviewing part; I thoroughly enjoyed it! I loved the subject and penguins are an all-time fav in our household! I am going for this book! Thanks KM.

Lavs said...

Lovely review. I echo Boo, i want to read all the books you guys have reviewed. Excellent work. Kept it going guys!

Anusha said...

sstoryteller: it's a delight hearing from you! anyone - kid or adult - who's ever had to move can relate to Augustine.

Poppins: the thing is when you read it, you don't leave with that note of sadness, she's kept it light and breezy. plus the ending is really uplifting.

Boo: why stop at 5, Boo?! the author/illustrator is Melanie Watt.

Ranjani & Chox: I've been in Augustine's shoes one too many times.

Praba: hehe - "moving" indeed! I'm sure K will love it.

Anusha said...

Meera: it takes a clever book to elicit such emotion across all ages.

Lavs: *waves hi* thanks for the support!

Sheela said...

Awesome, Kodi's Mom! I can relate to the feelings of displacement... the pun in pictures and words, how cute can that be? Praba, you raced me to the first one I could think of!

The picture puns you noted reminds me of When Pigasso Met Mootisse.

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Great effort you guys at Saffron tree ... what an excellent list you have compiled .... most books are on hold in our library :)

B o o said...

Max 5 books at a time in the school library! :) But sadly, many of the books are nt available.

sathish said...

wow KM!

self portrait of self before going to school - similar to Scream!!

That image itself would convey the whole emotion that might be going on.

school is a scary thing, isn't it? till you get a hang of it! :)

utbtkids said...

KM that is sooo cute. Sadly this book is not available in our library.

Tharini said...

We read this book after your review and simply loved it. Especially the illustrations on the left side of every page that tell even more of the story and fill in all its gaps! Such fun!

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