A dog may be a man’s best friend, but with these two books, Oliver Jeffers makes a strong case for a penguin being a child’s best pal. I first met the round-headed, stick-legged boy and his pudgy penguin in Lost and Found. This is a quiet, heartwarming story about an unnamed boy who discovers a penguin at his door. The penguin, who doesn’t speak, looks sad, so the boy assumes the bird is lost. He does everything he can to help the penguin find its way home, including checking the Lost and Found office (“no one was missing a penguin”), asking other birds (“they ignored him”,) and consulting his rubber ducky (“he didn’t know either”). Finally, the enterprising boy decides he has to take matters into his own hands. After doing some research and finding out where penguins come from, the boy takes out his rowboat and sets off with his new feathered friend for the South Pole. It’s a long journey, but they pass the time with the boy telling stories and the penguin listening attentively to every one of his tales. When they reach the South Pole, it should be a happy homecoming for the penguin, but he looks sadder than ever and the two awkwardly part. Fortunately, as he’s returning home in the rowboat, the boy realizes he’s made a big mistake: “The penguin hadn’t been lost. It had just been lonely.” There’s only one thing left to do: Turn back around and find his friend, which he does in a very satisfying hug-filled ending.
Five years later, I’m happy to report that the boy and penguin are back in Up and Down. In the sequel, the two friends do everything together—until one day, the penguin decides he wants to fly. They try all sorts of schemes (leaping off a chair on top of a dresser, tying a large balloon to the penguin’s belly). But nothing works. In fact, “after doing a bit of homework, it seemed like the odds were against him…” (The boy reads a book titled “Penguins Can’t Fly” to the discouraged penguin.) Then one day the penguin sees a circus poster advertising for “a new living cannonball.” Here’s his chance to fly! He’s so excited that he rushes off to answer the ad and forgets to tell the boy. The two friends are separated and they miss each other very much. To make matters worse, the penguin is having second thoughts about his new job as a living cannonball. But it’s too late. Terrified, the poor penguin finds himself being shot through the air. He “couldn’t believe how high or fast he was going, and he had no idea how he was going to land." As with Lost and Found, the ending is sweet and utterly satisfying. Boy and penguin meet up again in a dramatic will-boy-get-there-just-in-time-to-catch-the–penguin sequence. Children will cheer as the best buds reunite and make their way back home—together.
With gentle humor and understated wit (evident in both his whimsical watercolors and text), Jeffers has created a memorable pair of friends. You don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy the sequel. Each fanciful story stands on its own—reminding readers young and old just how special and magical a good friendship can be. I hope we don’t have to wait another five years for boy and penguin to reappear.
Are you familiar with these or others books by Oliver Jeffers? Which stand out for you?