Gwendolyn! (Juliette MacIver, illus by Terri Rose Baynton, ABC Books)
Gwendolyn! is a variation of a fish-out-of-water story; only this time it’s about a penguin frolicking in the depths of a jungle. Most kids know that jaguars, monkeys and parrots are natural jungle animals, but penguins? Enter Gwendolyn, who is one of a kind. She adores the heat, the humidity and the exotic flowers of her habitat, and is friendly with all the creatures who live there. Unlike other penguins, she is a tree climber, swinging about with her simian pals. She also manages to fly alongside her feathered friends with the help of some sturdy leaves. Gwendolyn is an exuberant character, always looking on the bright side and cheering on her jungle mates when they feel down. And yet one day she realises that she has never been to Antarctica, where others that look like her belong, and decides to travel to this wintry destination. But does she truly belong there? Juliette MacIver cleverly explores concepts around identity in this upbeat picture book for readers aged two and up: how one can assimilate to a strange environment and be happy there; and how being different is not necessarily a bad thing. Terry Rose Baynton’s illustrations are as bright as one would expect from a jungle setting.
Thuy On is a freelance arts journalist and reviewer and the books editor of the Big Issue