Penguin Problems by Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Penguin Problems by Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Captain Obvious moment: I knew that starting a project of choosing great storytime books would mean reading an insane amount of picture books, and I am totally fine with it. I started off with trawling the Internet to find lists of great picture books for 2016 and 2017, with the logic that I might as well keep it recent. One problem I found when planning my storytimes is that the gold standard storytime books, like Don’t Push the Button, had already been done at my storytime locations recently. Time to reinvent the wheel, then, and check out new works that other people thought were great. I’ve started with checking out 11 books, with about 15 more on reserve at my two local public library systems.

penguin-problemsFirst up is Penguin Problems written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith. This book came out in 2016 and was lauded for its humor. The premise is that a little penguin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed–he’s cold, he’s hungry, he’s lonely, and the day isn’t shaping up to improve. The story takes us through his day which is narrated by the penguin’s observations and start where it all began. Time to throw this story into the storytime book matrix

Text (amount, diction, font and size)

This would be a challenging book to narrate, as the penguin’s voice is very clear but literally every page has a complaint on it. The font is generally too small to be seen well, and then there’s one page with an entire wall of text where a walrus tells the penguin to appreciate what he does have instead of focusing on what he doesn’t.

Illustrations (line work, colors, size, and amount of “negative” white space, which is undesirable in a storytime book)

Some of the illustrations are great–very little negative space, and good colors and shapes. The penguins are distinct and I love how the colors mirror what you might see in Antarctica. One big problem is that there are way too many sequential pictures where the penguin is featured up to four times on the same page, implying movement…but a 2 year old might look at this and see four different penguins.Therefore, this book would be more appropriate for a school age audience.

Theme (concept and story)

The theme of this story is tricky to rate: a penguin complaining, realizing some things are nice, and then returning to complaining left other reviewers commenting on how it seemed like this book encourages whining. I didn’t see that, but I also think the audience who really appreciates picture books won’t pick up on the humor, and as an adult…I didn’t think it was that funny. I wish the part about the penguin appreciating what he has had been emphasized more, but then I suppose it might have had to have a different time.

  • Best age fit

School age, around first or second grade. Basically, old enough to appreciate the humor but young enough to still like storytime. If I was to read this book to a group of kids, I would be playing up the contrast and trying to bring more levity to what is generally a pretty downer story.

Possible early literacy connections

There’s always the argument of background knowledge for how penguins live, but I think there might be more informative and entertaining text for this particular skill.


So my first review is of a clunker. But really, I feel like this might be a good book for one-on-one reading, particularly with a kid with a different sense of humor. Lane Smith is known for quirky words, and most of his illustrations are great. I do have to recommend this with reservations about the conversation about appreciating what you’ve got that would probably follow after reading this story with a child.