Quick Guide – Penguin

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In our occasional series of Quick Guides, we present some ideas for discussing children’s books that can be read and discussed at home or school. This guide for Polly Dunbar’s Penguin was originally posted to our old website in December 2010. We’ve made some tweaks to make the notes more friendly to anyone using them at home.

About the Author

Polly Dunbar is an author-illustrator. Dunbar is known for her self-illustrated books Dog Blue, Flyaway Katie and Penguin. She is the daughter of children’s book writer Joyce Dunbar, whom she worked with to publish the picturebook Shoe Baby.

About the Book

Ben is delighted when he rips open his present and finds a penguin inside. Hello Penguin! says Ben. Penguin says nothing. Ben tickles Penguin; he pulls his funniest face; he puts on a happy hat, sings a silly song and does a dizzy dance but Penguin refuses to say anything. It isn’t until a passing lion swallows Ben that Penguin finally says something and Ben discovers it was worth the wait.

Before Reading


Ask the children to bring in a favourite soft toy (or a photograph of one). Perhaps it is one they have had since they were very young. Encourage the children to talk about their toys.


A circle Map is one of 8 Thinking Maps devised by David Hyerle

Has anyone ever seen a real penguin? Use a Circle Map (David Hyerle, 2018) to record what you know about Penguins. Write Penguins in the inner circle. In the outer circle write what you know about penguins using key words, phrases, symbols, pictures, and descriptions. In the rectangle (frame of reference) write where you learnt the information (e.g. books, films, museums, conversations etc.) You can add to your map as you learn more about penguins.

  • What do you know about them?
  • Can they fly?
  • What colour are they?
  • Where do they live? etc.

During Reading

First reading.

Read expressively and encourage the children to talk about anything they enjoyed/

  • Do they like Ben? Why? Why not?

Ben is initially disappointed because his Penguin won’t talk to him. Have you ever been disappointed with a present? What did you do? What do you think you should do when you are disappointed with a present?

Why do you think the Penguin refuses to talk when Ben tries to make him talk?

  • Look at the pictures of Ben. Can you tell what he is feeling in each of the pictures?
  • What clues help us understand how is feeling?
  • Look at the page, Ben got upset …’ What do you notice about Ben’s eyes in these pictures? How are they different to the way his eyes are drawn in the other pictures?
  • Tip: use a piece of paper to mask your mouth and nose and make different exaggerated expressions. Can the children tell from your eyes alone how you are feeling? They can practice making expressions in pairs and observing the different shapes that eyes make.
  • Look at the picture of the lion on the page where Ben says, ‘SAY SOMETHING!’ Can you tell what the lion is thinking from the way that its eye has been drawn?
  • Do you think the lion is friendly or frightening? What makes you think that?
  • Why do you think Penguin bites the lion on the nose?

After Reading

Use the pictures in Penguin’s speech bubble to tell the story

Ben tries really hard to make the penguin laugh or talk… but Penguin says nothing.

  • What makes you laugh? Can we make each other laugh? Sit in a circle and try to do something to make everyone laugh.
  • In pairs, improvise a conversation between Ben and the penguin (one child is Ben and one is the penguin). Ben tries really hard to get the Penguin to smile, laugh or talk. You may want to model this with another adult first.
  • What adventures do you think Ben will have next with his Penguin?