Monday, October 12, 2009

My Penguin Osbert

After I first saw the cover for My Penguin Osbert online, I knew I had to read this book. It was just so perfect. The little boy is wrapped up, covered in snow, and looking miserable. The penguin, on the other hand, is joyous. I loved the look of the boy and from that moment on I decided that I needed to find a copy. I picked up the book from the library and by coincidence it snowed this week. I was wrapped up and looking just as miserable as our hero. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I didn’t have a singing penguin by my side.

The story, written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, follows Joe who asks Santa for a penguin for Christmas. Joe isn’t taking any chances this year. He’s been disappointed in the past when Santa brought him (almost) what he wanted. So this year he asks for a real penguin, about 1 foot tall, with a yellow beak, named Osbert. And he receives his gift. But immediately he starts to realize that his gift might not be perfect. Osbert wants to go outside rather than open the rest of the presents. So Joe takes him outside and spends most of the evening out there since it makes Osbert happy. The next morning Osbert wants cold creamed herring for breakfast so that is what they have. Osbert makes a mess of the living room trying to build a village out of freezer pops and Joe has to clean up the mess. Joe is still thankful for his present but he’s getting a little tired of dealing with Osbert. So he writes Santa another letter. In this one he says that he loves Osbert as a gift but if Santa thinks that he should have asked for a different gift, then that would be okay. Santa comes through again, this time with tickets to Antarctic World, an exhibit at the local zoo. The two walk there in the snow (Osbert doesn’t like the bus) and have a great time. When it comes time to leave, Osbert doesn’t want to go. He wants to stay with the other penguins and the cold ice, and the creamed herring that they get. So Joe gives up Osbert to the zoo with the promise to come visit. And he’s already thinking about what to ask for next Christmas.

I loved this little story for a number of different reasons. The characters were sweet, the situation was silly and fun, and the story just made me smile. But what I liked the most was the character of Joe and his responsible attitude throughout the whole book. He constantly talks about how he needs to do things for Osbert. One phrase is repeated almost on each page. “But I had asked for Osbert, and now I had him.” I’m impressed with the character for his willingness to make sacrifices to keep his present happy. When he wants chocolate chip waffles, and Osbert wants cold herring, they have cold herring. When Joe wants to go to bed, and Osbert wants to take a cold bath, they take a cold bath. Of all the characters I’ve read, this one is the most selfless. He starts the book talking about how he’s been disappointed by Santa but when he does finally get what he wants, he’s willing to work for him. The story in itself is just one of those adorable tales that I want to read every winter. I loved the simplicity and the selflessness of it.

And I love the illustrations by H.B. Lewis. I cannot imagine cuter illustrations. Lewis uses watercolor and pastels to create soft sweet images. Osbert is long and thin and a cute penguin but it is Joe that steals the show. This kid is just adorable. When he’s standing outside singing the old penguin songs, when he’s freezing in a cold bath, or when he’s hugging his little penguin goodbye you just want to pinch his cheeks and tell him how cute he is. Joe is often sad and somehow that sadness just makes the images that much sweeter. I love the image of Joe and Osbert trudging towards the zoo. It is a simple but beautiful scene with a lot of emotion. Lewis is wonderful at creating sweet scenes and expressive characters. I loved the story, the illustration, the characters, and the sweetness of this story. This would be a perfect read-aloud tale for a cold winter day or anytime you need an emotional boost. Cute and sweet, my favorite type of story. And one I intend to rush out and buy before the snow flies again.

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