365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet is an amazing piece of graphic design first and foremost. You simply cannot drag your eyes from it.
Apart from its overlarge format, which I found irritating to read solo, but which would be an absolute godsend to read to a class, it demands your attention with its simple and startling colour palette and chunky, fat font. The large format and ultra clean colours mean that although there is a lot going on in each picture, there is no sense that you are being overwhelmed as a reader. You can take your time exploring the illustrations because all the detail stands out.
The colours are, as you might expect from a book about 365 penguins, mostly black and white. This is offset with a sunflower yellow and baby blue. Against the bright, white background this is incredibly arresting.
The story has several functions. Firstly it helps you understand some simple maths. The premise of the story is that a family receives a surprise delivery of one penguin per day for 365 days. The problems of storing all the penguins are multiple, and often the father of the family will appear to have solved it by grouping the penguins into triangles or cubes, or dividing them up into drawer spaces. The reader is offered the chance to figure out the sums in the story. If, like me, you are a mathematical no hoper, then the answers are upside down at the bottom of every page. As I have already said, the detailing in the illustrations is so sharp, that even though some of the sums involve large numbers, it is easy for the reader to count the penguins successfully.
There is a clear ecological message, which is only delivered at the end of the book, but packs a pretty powerful punch nonetheless, whilst miraculously also being humorous.
The other function of the story is to figure out the penguin based whodunnit. Who exactly is sending the family these penguins, and why?
The book is bonkers, and very funny. The penguins wreak havoc in the house, and with so many of them on every page there is always something going on for a child to spot and point out to you. It’s a bit like Where’s Wally? for penguins.
There is a lovely twist on the back inside cover which really made us laugh.
I can see this being a classic, both because it will appeal to children, and because it is one of those super stylish books that will appeal to creatives and media types and which will look very fine on middle class bookshelves up and down the land.
This is a stupendously fun picture book with lots to recommend it, both for use in an Early Years classroom setting and for reading at home.