Penguin Problems vs. It’s Not All Rainbows

Title: It’s Not All Rainbows
Author/Illustrator: Jessika von Innerebner
Published: Scholastic, 2019

 

Title: Penguin Problems
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Published: Random House, 2016

Today on Jess Reviews a book, we’re going to do what many a high school English assignment was about: comparing and contrasting. The two books? It’s Not All Rainbows and Penguin Problems. On the surface, they might appear different…but the stories are actually about the same thing:  a creature (in one case a unicorn, in the other, a penguin) having a really bad day and having to cope with it. Relatable? Sure! We’ve all been there. And the key thing to getting through a bad day is how you handle it.

Personally, I feel that copious amounts of chocolate is the only solution, but that applies to most things in life.

Anyway, the books.

What I found interesting was how each author handled the bad days.

In It’s Not All Rainbows, we meet Kevin the Unicorn. His life is bright and sparkly until…he wakes up on the floor of his room one morning. That’s never a good way to start your day, and it only goes downhill from there. Kevin tries to stay happy. He looks at his motivational posters. He sets out with every intention to have a good day. But…calamity after calamity befalls him. His car runs out of gas! He gets stuck in the rain! He ends up getting CLAM juice to drink! Everything spirals out of control until…Kevin can stand it no longer. He finally admits that he’s having a really, truly, lousy, crummy day. And…surprisingly, he’s not alone. Four more unicorns admit that things aren’t exactly roses and sunshine in their lives either.  And it is then that they realize: unicorns don’t always have perfect days. And that’s okay.

The art in this book is terrific. The colourful unicorns, the sparkles on the front cover, the excellent expressions on the unicorns’ faces. All super. Lily loves this story and we’ve read it countless times. I love the message: not every day is going to be perfect, but it’s going to be alright. Or, in the words of my favourite 1980’s sitcom, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…the facts of life.”

Ahem.

Onto Penguin Problems! 

First things first: I chose this book at the library because it was adorable. The cover is super-interesting, in that it’s done with a penguin pattern and has the title on the BACK instead of the front. Crazy! I loved the design and I really liked the art in the book. So, A+ for art.

But the story. Oh, the story. It starts out with a penguin complaining about everything. His beak is too cold. There’s too much snow. It’s too bright. NOTHING is making little penguin happy. His day is just going HORRIBLY. Which, as a parent, I totally get. My kids are like this sometimes! Occasionally, there’s literally NOTHING I can do to make their little worlds brighter. So usually I tell them to go read a book and/or draw and chill out by themselves for a bit. It gives them something to do and gives me a break from hearing how unfair life is. (SO UNFAIR, in case you were wondering.)

What I don’t do with my kids is give them a lecture about counting their blessings. When someone is having a bad day/when things aren’t going well, they don’t need a lecture about what they SHOULD be feeling. They need someone to say, “OK, things are tough. Some days are like that. But let’s try to find something for you to do to make you feel a bit better. You can talk to me or write about it or just go chill out for a bit.” And that usually helps.

About 3/4 of the way through the story (after many pages of penguin complaints), an old walrus shows up to drop some hard truths on the little bird. It’s a literal full page of walrus-speech. He basically tells the penguin that yeah, he’s having a bad day, but there’s a lot of good stuff to appreciate and that he (the walrus) wouldn’t trade his life for another and he bets the penguin wouldn’t either. Which, I don’t know, based on the amount of complaining he was doing, I’m fairly certain the penguin would swap places with a Florida flamingo in a heartbeat, but I digress.

This is the problem I have with the story: the walrus kind of kills the momentum (other than the page of dense text, the rest of the story has just a few sentences per page). Also, he shuts the penguin down. Just…shuts him down. There’s no comeback to the walrus. There’s no way to say, “Dude, mind your own beeswax.” It’s an adult saying to a kid “Yeah, you’re unhappy, but you shouldn’t be. You should be grateful for what you have.”

And then, after that lecture, what’s with the penguin’s instant change of heart? Also quite unbelievable. No one responds to “Count your blessings” with “OK! Let me get started RIGHT NOW! I don’t know WHAT I was thinking. You’re clearly right!” The penguin was SO miserable before…I don’t think a lecture from a nosy walrus would immediately turn his day around for the better.

I read this book to Vivi and Lily and they were initially stoked because:

  1. They also loved the art.
  2. Penguins

It was all fine (as in, they were listening intently) until we hit the walrus page. At that point, they visibly lost interest. They didn’t find the story very satisfying at the end, and they haven’t asked to read it again.

So I read it myself. I’ll often do that if I find the girls don’t really like a book. Sometimes it helps to read it alone, as an adult. And I found that in this case. I get it, from an adult’s point-of-view. As an adult you get caught up in all the “stuff” of life. All the things you’re worried about, your family and friends, your job, your house…the world in general. It helps to be reminded that you’re where you need to be. That things will work out. That’s a message that, as an adult, I can appreciate and understand, because I have many years of experience and I know that bad days don’t go on forever. But kids? They don’t know that yet. So what they need is someone to guide them through their tough days, not shut them down. They need a helping hand, not a lecturing walrus.

The girls gave It’s Not All Rainbows a solid A+.

Penguin Problems got an A for the art, but the story just wasn’t what they needed to hear.

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