Penguins and suits


Book review, from Tokyo – Penguins look like they wear tuxedos. That black and white dress and its assumed importance plays a part in adding to the fun of watching them wobble and hop on land, and then rip through the waters with ease. This connection is open to play, offering good contrast and effect.

Satoe Tone might not have intended to, but 『ペンギンかぞくのおひっこし』 (Pengin kazoku no ohikkoshi, lit. The penguins are moving) does it effortlessly. It tells the story of, well, our avian friends looking for a new place to call home.

The home of this family of 84 is shrinking, so they decide to embark on a journey. In their bowties and top hats, the birds ride the waves on a breakaway iceberg, first venturing South ―I hear there are clear blue seas there, says one. But they find themselves swimming through dark, murky waters.

They then go East, West, and finally North, seeking grasslands teeming with snails, yellow fields of towering dandelions, and forests filled with singing birds. They were disappointed each time, by factories and their billowing chimneys, a bleak gray expanse of sand, and a land of barren trees. Well, no place for us on Earth, they thought.

And so they hop into their balloons and set off for the moon. There the penguins are struck by the sight of the lovely, perfectly round, luminous, blue planet, and decide to return home.

Perched in a tree, they take their hats off to collect dandelion seeds, committed to doing something ―anything― for their beautiful planet.

To drive home the obvious message, Tone ends with a note. The penguins symbolize the first 84 signatories to the Kyoto protocol in 1997. Some countries chase economic progress and lose sight of its impact on the environment, but everyone can do their part ―walk, conserve water and energy― to reduce global carbon emissions.

A simple story for children with a call to do all we can, however small, to stop global warming. Tone uses vivid colours for the worlds the penguins dreamed of, contrasting them starkly with the darkish, gray tones of those they end up in. Flushed in white, the final page conveys both the call to action and hope for building a cleaner, brighter future.

Its funny how sometimes we miss the woods for the trees, or need a reminder of what sits right under our noses. Like the penguins who decide to move, before realizing that the only place for them is, well and truly, this planet we all call home. Well, who else should clean up after but ourselves?

Title: 『ペンギンかぞくのおひっこし』
(Pengin kazoku no ohikkoshi, lit. The penguins are moving) by Satoe Tone
Publisher: Shogakukan, 2017
Translated from the Italian original, also available in Spanish.

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