Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review - Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems
by Jory John
illustrated by Lane Smith
Date: 2016
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Have you ever thought: I have so many problems and nobody even cares? Well, penguins have problems too! Discover them in this hilarious collaboration from Jory John (All my friends are dead. and Quit Calling Me a Monster!) and Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales)!

This penguin has come to tell you that life in Antarctica is no paradise. For starters, it is FREEZING. Also, penguins have a ton of natural predators. Plus, can you imagine trying to find your mom in a big ol’ crowd of identical penguins? No, thank you.

Yes, it seems there is no escaping the drudgery of your daily grind, whatever it might be. Or perhaps we’ve just learned that grumps are everywhere....

This book is sure to tickle kids’ funny bones and will elicit appreciative sighs from the adults reading it aloud.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm kind of sad that I can't give this book a higher rating, because I thought the snarky penguin was funny and the illustrations made me smile. Unfortunately, this book is problematic in a number of ways.

The main character is a penguin who feels like he's got it rough. There are predators to worry about, the sun is too bright, the sea is too salty, he can't find his friends and family because everybody looks exactly the same, and to top it all off, he can't even fly. His complaining is so over-the-top that it's kind of amusing... and is probably supposed to be.

But then, a walrus comes on the scene. First of all, walruses don't even live in Antarctica. So there's no way the penguin would've known he was a walrus. Nor would he have known what the heck the walrus was talking about when he mentioned polar bears. (Walruses and polar bears are both Arctic creatures; penguins live in the Antarctic region.) As if that isn't bad enough, the walrus then presumes to know that he understands a penguin's problems and then completely invalidates the penguin's feelings.

As someone living with an invisible disability, I've had to listen to walruses for a long time: "Other people have it worse." "At least it's not cancer." "Why don't you just appreciate what you have?" When people start giving advice when they have zero experience with what you're going through, it's extremely frustrating. The condescending walrus has never lived a penguin's life; therefore, he has no right to tell the penguin how he should feel about it. In a general sense, the walrus's advice is okay (appreciate what's around you, etc.) but it might rub people who have dealt with walruses in their own lives the wrong way.

The illustrations are much cuter than the cover suggests. I don't know why someone didn't choose a less cluttered illustration for the cover. (When I look at it in a thumbnail, I actually see skunks, not penguins!) There are so many cute pictures on the inside, it wouldn't have been difficult to come up with something a little more aesthetically pleasing.

Overall, I can't really recommend this one. I don't like books that promote the idea that you should go around passing judgment on people because they're not feeling the same way about life that you are. It's presumptuous, it's disrespectful, and its a glaring display of privilege. And in the case of this book, it would be like a tourist from New York City going to the streets of New Delhi and telling a homeless person, "Be grateful. At least you don't have to worry about snow."

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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