365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental

Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (ISBN 978-0810944602)

On the first day of the new year, the mailman brings a surprise – a penguin!’

An incredible and rather unusual start to the new year for one family becomes more incredible and more unusual when they discovered no name or address on the box, no clue about where it could have come from or who might have sent it.  There was only a little note: I’m number 1. Feed me when I’m hungry. The next day, and the next, saw the delivery of another penguin! By the end of the week they had 7 penguins and by the end of January, 31!

Who doesn’t love a penguin? Well, at first the family found them to be cute, but as the days, weeks and months rolled by, those penguins really began to to pile up and so did the family’s problems.  Feeding, caring for and cleaning up after all of their feathered friends proved to be a mammoth task.  They were noisy, smelly and they always hogged the bathroom!  As the family battled with the growing penguin problem, the deliveries continued so as soon as they found one penguin storage solution another tuxedo wearing guest arrived, including the very sweet Chilly, with his blue toes.  Every day for a whole year, another one turns up on their doorstep.  Who could be sending these squawking rascals? And why?

The simplicity of the story allows the reader to imagine for themselves the truly bizarre situation the family is in.  The illustrations, created with the limited palette of black, white, orange and blue, tell us so much more than the writing as we can literally see the family struggle to live alongside their growing waddle of penguins and the hilarious ways they try to organise them. At the end of the story, the mystery of the penguins is resolved and the family can look forward to a normal day. But, oh wait, was that the doorbell?

365 Penguins is an ingenious picture book that explores the world of number and mathematical word problems.  Children are presented with problems such as calculating how the penguins need to be fed and how much this would cost.  As this is an American publication, weights are in pounds and prices are in dollars, but this could be easily changed if being used as a teaching point or some children may be able to convert the prices and weights.  This alone could be the start of an investigation where children explore the cost of feeding the penguin at different points during the year.  Organising all 365 penguins would allow children to investigate number patterns and special numbers.  They could think about how the penguins could be organised and then which amounts of penguins could be organised in such a way: squares, cubes, pyramids, evenly sized group (fives, threes)… from simple times tables and grouping activities to volume and cubed numbers, this activity could go on and on.  Children would be able to pose many other questions based around the penguin calamity.

The penguin theme also allows for literacy and geography work.  Children could investigate the topics of penguins and write a non-chronological report about penguins in general or different types of penguins, they could write a guide on how to care for a penguin (something the penguin plagued family would have had great use for) or even a persuasive piece to encourage people to protect penguins and their habitat.  This would lead well into geography where children could learn about global warming and the impact it has on different animals, including penguins.  Finally, the ending of the book leads perfectly into another story which the children could write: ‘365…’ Starting with the mysterious delivery of an animal to their door on New Year’s Day – then another and another – children could have tremendous fun writing their own version of the story.