Some fictional characters, like their human counterparts, no matter their age look at their world with curiosity and hope. Seeing something new on a daily walk, exploring a place away from home or looking for love, can fill your days with delight if your heart is open and your spirit in generous. Treasures are waiting to be found, if you look with the right kind of eyes.
Sometimes, seemingly disparate things can have an important connection. Let's look at a pinecone, a crab and yarn. What these three items have in common is a very special character created by author illustrator, Salina Yoon. In October of 2012 she introduced us to Penguin in Penguin and Pinecone; a story of an endearing friendship, of a love which grows and spreads.
"I need a vacation."
I'll wager many people in the northern climates, especially in the last few weeks, can identify with Penguin. He feels like he's exhausted all previous snowy activities of skiing, sledding and skating. This feathered creature craves sun and sand.
Suitcase by his side, beach ball in his flippers, he travels by floe to the beach of his dreams only to discover it's not quite what he expected. Hazards such as sea shells, coconuts and hot sand make exploring a bit difficult. His favorite pastimes of skiing, sledding and skating don't work as well or not at all.
A little red pal appears ready to acquaint Penguin with the finer points of vacationing at the beach. Crab knows all about creating castles, climbing palm trees, and surfing. Penguin can't believe his good fortune found with his new friend.
We all know vacations must come to an end. Reluctantly Penguin begins the long float home. Startled by a movement in the water, the return trip reveals exciting new possibilities. Penguin is able to return many kindnesses and the gift of a tiny scarf and tiny mittens. Another return makes an appearance by the book's end to the delight of more than one penguin.
In the simple sentences telling this tale, Salina Yoon conveys thoughts and emotions but most importantly the presence of innocence. Both Penguin and Crab are eager to extend the hand of friendship to one another, unencumbered by any assumptions. The main narrative is broadened with the smaller text; additional thoughts and exclamations by the characters. You can tell Yoon loves playing with words giving a cadence to some of her sentences. She also likes to include a wee bit of humor. Here are a couple of examples.
Ninety-nine balls of snow on the ground...
They whooshed and pushed.
They fished and wished.
When opening up the cover of this title, Salina Yoon gives you hints about how the story will unfold picturing Penguin's arrival at the beach with Crab on the sand, the back cover showing the conch shell, an important element to the story. The beginning endpapers are diagonally lined with multiple Crabs, red on pale yellow. On the back endpapers he is still there, clad now in Penguin's newly knitted gifts.
To accentuate the narrative flow, illustrations vary in size from two pages, to single pages, small cutouts on pure white backgrounds, and single pages framed in her signature heavy black lines surrounded by white space. With only black dots for eyes, Yoon still conveys her characters personalities with warmth and conviction. The tiniest of details add to the book's charm; Penguin's beach outfit, Crab's beach bag used in travel and Penguin pulling Crab on a spare skate as if he is a skier behind a boat. My favorite illustration is of the two of them drinking from the same coconut, using long straws, lying on their respective beach towels and wearing sunglasses.
Less than ten days ago Penguin in Love (Walker Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Bloomsbury, December 3, 2013) could be found in bookstores. As in the first title, Penguin comes across an unexpected item. It begins an interesting chain of events.
One day, Penguin was looking for love.
Instead, he found...
It looks like a mitten but there are no signs from where it might have come. Grandpa (It's great that Grandpa has a part in all the books.) and several others penguins say it is not their mitten, although they are missing other things. What Penguin does not know is his friend, Bootsy from Penguin and Pinecone, is busily knitting cozies on the other end of the ice.
Like Penguin, Bootsy knits with purpose, to help others and fill her solitary heart. To Penguin's surprise two puffins land near him and his latest knitting project, a partner for the sole mitten. Guess what? It's not a mitten but a bill cozy which the puffin is thankful to receive.
Those two puffins, a match made in heaven, have a plan. Penguin's yarn disappears. Bootsy's yarn vanishes. In searching for their yarn, Penguin and Bootsy meet again. They have a mystery to solve, though. A line of clues have been left for them.
Following these trails of yarn, the two knit and knit and knit and knit, binding themselves together in warmth, fun, comfort and kindness until a terrible storm separates the two. All they have left are their individual clues. It's not easy but they discover the greatest adventure of all waits.
When you read the first sentence of this narrative, you are completely captivated. You imagine how Salina Yoon might have Penguin find love. It's interesting how she uses her sentences like a knitter uses yarn, stringing them together, in and out, over and under, having Penguin and Bootsy follow paths to each other creating the best kind of garment for warmth, love. Additional interest is added in this title with the introduction of the puffins, other penguins by name, the seal pup and the whale. Again we see the playful nature of Yoon in the song sung by her characters out at sea. The final three pages of text are guaranteed to create a sigh, a glow lighting every reader's heart.
As she did in the previous title, the opened cover provides foreshadowing; the heart-shaped ice floe, the yarn making a letter o and the needles making a letter x on the front. The tip of the ice extends to the back with the two puffins looking forward at Penguin, a heart drawn in the snow reading P + B. On both the starting and closing endpapers on a white background are lines of brightly-colored yarn, making loops and hearts.
You have to smile at the inclusion of a telescope in Penguin's flippers when he is looking for love and the magnifying glass he holds examining the single mitten. Another delightful interpretation by Yoon is when Penguin lays out a sign for Bootsy to find; he spells her name in yarn with a knitted bow crossing the t and a heart woven into the tail of the y. As in the other titles, cheerful colors sparkle on every page with the white backgrounds and bold black lines lifting them into view. My favorite illustration spreads across the bottom of two pages; in a line are the whale, two puffins on an ice floe, and the seal pup on a floe too with the heart-shaped floe in the lead, occupied by Penguin and Bootsy as all are singing.
Penguin on Vacation and Penguin in Love written and illustrated by the very talented Salina Yoon are charming with a capital C. You can't help but fall in love with Penguin and his friends as they enjoy each other's company. All of these books are first and foremost to be enjoyed but think of the wonderful conversations you can have about friendship. Share them with as many people as you can, repeatedly with joy.
To discover more about Salina Yoon and her books, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website. This link takes you to a pictorial interview at BookPage.