Thursday, February 07, 2008

Playful Little Penguins by Tony Mitton

Long-time readers of this blog know that I adore the work of British poet, Tony Mitton. You may recall me mentioning this book during my interview with Tony Mitton last summer. Originally released in the UK with title Perky Little Penguins, it was brought to the US market with the altered title Playful Little Penguins. While I bemoaned the change as not exactly necessary (as did the folks at Kirkus), I can assure you that the rhymes in this book are tight and, for want of a better word, playful, and that the bright illustrations by Guy Parker-Rees are happy-happy-happy.

The poem is structured in a sort of verse and chorus style. Hence, one "verse" reads: "Playful little penguins/coming out today/looking for their furry friends/ . . . Here they are— hooray!" The verses describe the actions that the penguins take: Throughout the book, the penguins slide and scoot and try to cheer up a baby seal who has been separated from her mother. But the "choruses" are where the emotional payoffs are, in my opinion. They not only sum up, but they state or imply emotion as well. Here's the first "chorus" in the book: "Playful little penguins/in the wintry weather—/that's how penguins like to move,/waddling 'round together." (Togetherness is a big thing for these penguins, and playfulness implies happiness as well, to my thinking.) And here is the very last "chorus" in the book, after the penguins have entertained the seal cub and accomplished their task of distracting her and making her happy until her mother turns up:

Sleepy little penguins
in a happy huddle—
that's how penguins like to rest,
in a cozy cuddle!

Happy sigh. The penguins are drowsy and happy and cozied up together. I expect that most children, upon hitting that last page, with its images of penguins huddled in pairs and groups, will smile broadly, and then say "AGAIN!" And well they should.

Fans of rhyme will love this one for its metric beat, which is based on accented beats per line as opposed to syllable counts: two stressed beats per line, the same formula in "verses" and "choruses". And yet, the what I'm calling the "choruses" has a slightly different feel to it somehow. Perhaps it's that the "choruses" are usually presented together on one page, while the verses are spread across pages, but I think there's something about the "chorus"-feeling parts that requires a slighly slower reading pace when reading it aloud. And this book cries out to be read aloud.

I'd advise folks with young children to get their hands on Tony Mitton's penguins. Whether you choose the Playful or Perky version is up to you.

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