Review by New York Times Review
WE ARE ALL MORTIMER. Mortimer is a penguin, resident of the South Pole or wherever it is penguins huddle for warmth and companionship. He hates the snow, finds his own waddling ridiculous, and wishes the other penguins would zip it already with the squawking. Even the sea monsters attempting to munch him for lunch leave Mortimer cold. The cold leaves him cold too. "Penguin Problems," written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith, is for all those parents whose own darling Peters and Peytons and Tylers and Tristans occasionally (and I am sure it is only very occasionally) metamorphose into Mortimers. My own Mortimer is a 13-year-old girl who spent this very morning complaining that my wife and I talked while driving her to her field hockey game. Her complaint was, yes, that her parents had a conversation in her presence. In that moment, I would have very much liked to have sat her down to learn something from the funny and acerbic "Penguin Problems," but my daughter has now graduated beyond taking lessons, as Mortimer does, from cartoon walruses. Perhaps I could have instead simply used the book as a spanking paddle, but that would have risked ruining Lane Smith's evocative illustrations of endless cold, frightful inky depths and the spartan beauty of Antarctic mountain peaks. So, instead, we watched our daughter join her friends and, when she was out of earshot, complained about her for the duration of the field hockey game, because parents can be Mortimers too. We may also all be the tetchy grandmother of Vera Brosgol's warm and weird "Leave Me Alone!," which somehow mashes "There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" with something out of "Star Trek." The poor crone in "Leave Me Alone!" wants only to be left in peace to knit sweaters, but her dozens of grandchildren will not give her a moment's peace. Nor will the bears in the woods, the goats on the mountaintops or the moon people on the moon. Is a little alone time too much to ask for the avid knitter? Apparently so. In a fit of pique, she retreats, literally, from the world, finally finding the peace she craves in the unlikeliest of places. The problem is, once crabby Grandma is all alone, she is really all alone, and as any grandmother worth her hard candies knows, what good are dozens of hand-knit sweaters if you've got nobody to give them to? Brosgol's clever text manages to feel both classic and ultracontemporary, as do her illustrations, which veer between timeless watercolors and what could pass as rough sketches for a "Minions" spinoff. Colorful and fun, "Leave Me Alone!" will be a good addition to any bookshelf, especially for children who like to shout along. Another new book toys with the very new and very, very old. Patrick McDonnell's "Tek" tells the tale of a Stone Age boy with a serious addiction to his screens: In McDonnell's book, early humans have the internet and television sets, but no fire. (The children also have beards. I don't know why.) Little Tek is so enamored with the beeps and boops in front of his face that he ignores his dinosaur best friend, misses out on evolution, and sits out all the ice age fun that can be had when the world is covered in fluffy snow. It takes a force of nature to shake him - literally - from his stupor and get him back out in the world. McDonnell was a Caldecott Honor artist for the 2012 book "Me...Jane," about the primatologist Jane Goodall, and his art here remains fun and lively. The story, however, feels heavy-handed in its binary treatment of the increasing role electronics play in the lives of young children. "Tek" itself is designed to resemble a tablet in both the ancient and modern sense of the word, a clever bit of packaging that may cause some handwringing among parents who prefer their books, at least, in a more primitive form. Perhaps no children's form is more ancient than the book of verse, those compilations of light doggerel meant to entertain and instruct. Done poorly, these anthologies come off as patronizing and pedantic, but put into the hands of Calvin Trillin and the illustrator Roz Chast, the results are a constant delight. "No Fair! No Fair!: And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood" uses a Pandora's box of childhood complaints as its inspiration. The poems are crisp and tart as autumn apples. Here's a little sample, called "Studying the Butterfly": Though butterflies are cool, all right, Instead of them I thought we might Put action figures on the floor And fight a superhero war. Simple, funny and true. What more could one ask from a poetry collection for any age? Chast, of course, is known for her New Yorker illustrations and her National Book Award-finalist graphic novel, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" Her illustrations here are classic Chast, which I think of as "the art of anxiety." Lots of squiggly worry lines and eyeballs in a state of permanent, panicked dilation. Children and their minders will find much to giggle over together in "No Fair! No Fair!" I've always been partial to books that do not sugarcoat childhood. After all, kids and adults and field hockey players and penguins will always find something to complain about. How nice to find a bevy of new children's books that acknowledge we are, indeed, a world of Mortimers. No fair! MICHAEL IAN BLACK is an actor and the author of the picture book "A Child's First Book of Trump:
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 13, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review
Penguins don't seem to have a care in the world, but the waddling star of John and Smith's new picture book is here to set you straight. This penguin doesn't like the cold, the early morning, the salty smell of the ocean, or the constant squawking, and everyone looks exactly the same. What is it with this place? Thanks to Penguin's deadpan, saucer-eyed expression, all that negative attitude becomes pretty hilarious, and when a well-meaning walrus tries to give Penguin a lesson in gratitude, his over-the-top reaction is even sillier. Smith's multimedia illustrations, in a paint-splattered texture and minimal palette, add to the humor, particularly when he contrasts crowds of identical penguins with his grouchy protagonist. Soon, though, the penguin comes around to the walrus' view, and he starts to appreciate the icy beauty of the mountains and proximity of his friends (until his beak gets cold again, that is). With wry humor and distinctive artwork, this off-kilter tale will be right at home with fans of Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat (2012).--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2016 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Being a penguin is no day at the park: "It's way too early. My beak is cold. What's with all the squawking, you guys?" John's bumbling, bleary-eyed penguin has a hard time on land, and the ocean depths are even worse: "Oh, great. A leopard seal. Oh, great. A shark.... What is it with this place?" Then there's the matter of parents: "Mom?" the penguin asks another penguin near a crowd of look-alike penguins. "I literally have no idea who you are," the other penguin replies. Just when things look hopeless, a passing walrus offers a comforting (if long-winded) sermon, and the penguin gets a moment of respite from his angst. John (I Love You Already) delivers a rat-a-tat series of laughs, and Smith's (There Is a Tribe of Kids) mottled, minimalist polar landscapes highlight the penguin's awkward moments. His story is classic comedy, an examination of the delicate balancing act between total despair ("I have so many problems! And nobody even cares!" the penguin cries) and the resolve to stumble on. Ages 3-7. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review
PreS-Gr 2-It's not easy being a penguin. As a world-weary avian narrator points out, there's plenty that can (and does) go wrong: "My beak is cold." "It snowed some more last night, and I don't even like the snow." "The ocean smells too salty today." An even chillier fishing expedition does not improve his demeanor: "Oh, great. An orca. Oh, great. A leopard seal. Oh, great. A shark. What is it with this place?" Smith's sponge-textured illustrations expand upon the text's downbeat doldrums with visual humor and delightfully deadpan facial expressions. Still hungry, the penguin pulls out of the water just before being gulped down by the bigger seal (which is about to be consumed by the even larger shark, about to be swallowed by the huge orca). His melancholy monologue continues until a stately walrus catches his attention and delivers a wise (and lengthy and slightly bombastic) oration about appreciating the good things in life. Grudgingly, Penguin embraces a new perspective. He sits on a pristine peak, gazes at gracefully falling flurries, and muses, "Maybe things will work out, after all"-or not (the page turn reveals that the gentle snowflakes have turned into a full-fledged storm and Penguin has resumed his grousing). This sublime pairing of author and artist results in a rib-tickling exploration of what it means to look at the unsunny side. VERDICT Share this book with Claire Messer's Grumpy Pants for a storytime starring persnickety penguins.-Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review
The temperature may be below freezing, but the snark level is cranked up high in this collaboration between funnymen John and Smith. Penguin wakes up and immediately begins to complain: Its too bright out here. Where are all the fish?! My flippers ache. When Penguin cant even pick his mom or dad out of the crowd, he loses his cool: I have so many problems! And nobody even cares! Finally, an eloquent walrus introduces himself and offers some wise advice for coping with lifes woes. Penguin is at times wonderfully expressive, at others hilariously deadpan, depending on how Smith modifies the hint of brow over those eyes or the curve of Penguins beak. Penguins words are rendered in orange type (matching his beak), varying in size based on the angry little fellows presumed volume; when Walrus comes into the picture to wax philosophical, we get both another characters perspective and a change in pace and type color. In the end, Penguin, having considered Walruss advice, softens his stance: OK, OKI have friends and family. This is my only home, and this is my only life. Maybe things will work out, after all. He walks away, an iconic shape against a darkening sky, apparently heading into a more optimistic future. Maybe. (See the fine print.) sam bloom (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.