A lot of the books which I write about are loved because of their storytelling; the way the words roll around in my mouth, and that very pedantic pleasure of seeing a word used in its perfect context, and with perfect rhythm for the rhyme. And I love good illustration in the girls’ books and we can spend ages looking at a really detailed picture, spotting all the extra clues or parental in jokes left by the illustrator.
Penguin is none of those. There’s no patter, no tongue twisting complexity of language, and the artwork is, not quite minimalist, but certainly clutter free. And yet I think it’s wonderful. And I think there is a very good reason for including it in our library.
You’ll have to bear with me a little bit on the explanation front here, but you know the feeling when you go to see a film of a most beloved book and you come out feeling faintly cheated; the actor just hasn’t played the character the way you heard her in your head, or the pressures of Hollywood have cut what you thought we’re the most important parts of then story for the sake of pacing, and turned it all on its head in the process. Take The Dark is Rising as an example; I love it as a book series but the film, while a fun film, rather trashed the book in the process, and it’s not the only culprit.
The disappointment comes about because your mind has taken those words and built a virtual reality out of them, filling in any plot gaps, and turning little black letters on a white page into a whole world; giving flesh to the typeface skeleton.
I think that’s an acquired skill, built up over years of reading for pleasure. A skill which puts the pleasure into reading and i suspect is the reason why I get rather disappointed when a book finishes and the driving force behind why I immediately start reading round on the subject, especially where it’s historical fiction and I want to know what really happened and what is artistic license.
The story itself is simple, Ben gets a penguin as a present. Ben talks to Penguin. Penguin says nothing.
Whatever Ben tries, Penguin says nothing,
until at last on the final page, Penguin says everything. And you could rattle through it, a nice quick read before bedtime, but I’m trying to consciously linger, to have Kitty wonder why and how Ben happened to have a rocket to send Penguin to outer space,
or why there was a passing Lion, and to enjoy the simply drawn but perfectly captured stages of a toddler tantrum in progress.
Kitty thinks it’s hilarious, especially the page where the Lion eats Ben for being too noisy, and because the written part is short and simple she’s got it memorised. As I was taking these pictures she sat turning the pages telling me the story all the way through the book and giggling at herself, and I love that this is a book which she can pull out and read for herself if she wants; sometimes I just wish I could see what her imagination is making of all of it.
Do go and say hi to Lucy and Kelle and see what they’ve been reading, and if you’ve seen something you think we all ought to be reading, please let us know!