I love Christmas! And so does the author of this new book, The North Pole Penguin. “I began thinking about writing a story when my niece was born because I thought it would be a great gift for her,” Christopher Payne told me in a letter. And now it’s become a shiny new book that’s ready just in time for Christmas….
The bright, festive cover introduces you to smiley Parker the penguin, and for an extra Christmas-y feeling, its title is in red and green letters. (That penguin is even wearing green mittens, and making red X’s on a calendar!) The illustrations (by Lorena Soriano) have a colorful, cartoon-y feel which set a holiday tone for the book from its very first page. “December in the South Pole world was filled with Christmas cheer. And Parker Preston led the way in winter every year…”
Yes, this story even rhymes. (It’s like the book wants to be read out loud…) And every picture lets you follow its smiley penguin as he travels the world with a snowman. The snowman’s a gift for Santa Claus — so Preston probably should’ve avoided South America altogether. Ah, but he couldn’t, the author points out — because penguins live in the south pole!
“I grew tired of seeing penguins in Christmas decorations and movies,” Payne told me. “As many of us learned in school (and apparently forgot), penguins are native to the South Pole area, not the North Pole…!” But there was another more important idea that was inspiring him. “We always hear the phrase, ‘It’s better to give than to receive’ around the holidays, and then forget the meaning behind the words… I wanted to create a character who could actually step back and think for a second and realize that if it truly is better to give than to receive, and if Santa Claus is the ultimate giver, who gives gifts to him?”
I really liked the message of the book. (I still get a warm feeling when I remember that Christmas is about the giving…) Even a prologue on the book’s first page reminds us that “Santa Claus is real, and if you believe in him and are brave enough to look for him, you might just get to meet him!” And I believe that’s actually true, if you read between the lines. Everyone knows that Santa is the spirit of giving itself — and in this story, it’s a little penguin who understands that best of all.
The book traces the penguin’s long journey to deliver his gift to Santa, across the world — and even through New York City. I liked how the penguin shared a pizza with river rats “under urban stars”, and that all the animals he meets on his trip seem friendly and helpful. Maybe it’s a reminder that Christmas is celebrated internationally, or that generous people are everywhere. There’s even a campfire in Canada, and all the animals he meets contribute more gifts for Santa.
The story might be a bit long for younger children, since Santa doesn’t appear until page 24. (And it might’ve been fun to have some dialogue between the penguin and his friends — if only so kids could hear their parents trying to imitate a penguin!) But there’s a nice Christmas feeling to the whole project, with Christmas lights surrounding the text on many of the pages. Even pages with just text have a different-colored background, like a Christmas-y green, a wintry blue, or a fireplace yellow… And most importantly, Payne wrote a story that “captures everything right about the true spirit of the holiday.”
“I just hope others feel the same way!”