Penguin Problems in the classroom

Penguin Problems by Jory John

Penguin problemsWhat you’ll need

  • A copy of Penguin Problems
  • A “snow cave”

Age Level

The words in the story are short and simple but the lesson it teaches would benefit children of any age.

Teaching from a cave

If, like me, you feel the need to spice up your online learning a little, I can highly recommend creating a cave and teaching from there for the day. You don’t even really need to do much. Make a cave, sit inside and see what happens. Add a few books to the mix, a torch, some snacks. The class could discuss what they think you’ll find outside the cave. Maybe they could make their own caves and write instructions teaching others how to do the same. The possibilities are endless. 

Inspired by a pile of white sheets that looked a lot like an ice cave I decided to head to Antarctica with my class. Luckily on the day lockdown seemed imminent, I grabbed a pile of books from our school library to take home just in case and amongst the treasure was Penguin Problems.

Reading Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems is a quirky wee tale that I’ll admit didn’t instantly grab me. A small penguin, wanders along moaningpenguin 1 about everything. “I waddle too much.” “The ocean smells too salty today.” “It’s too bright out here.” Eventually he meets a very wise Walrus who suggests that maybe his life isn’t so terrible, that there are things he could really enjoy. There’s a great juxtaposition, after pages of simple single Penguin sentences to reach a page full of Walrus’s wise speech, including gems like, “Have you noticed way the mountains are reflected in the ocean like a painting?”

What was so perfect about Penguin Problems is that just this week there’s been lots of chat in my class about how bored everyone is and how they want to go back to school. We’ve shared ideas for things we can do when we’re penguin 2feeling a bit sad, lonely or bored. My school also ran some great professional development this week on student wellbeing, including activities based around the book, How full is your bucket?

Penguin Problems lends itself perfectly to discussion around looking at the positives rather than the negatives and thinking of all the things you’re grateful for.

Antarctica Activity Ideas

Because we were going somewhere cold, before we left for Antarctica everyone put on warm clothes. I had my ski gear including, beanie, jacket, goggles and gloves and my class all got wrapped up in puffer jackets and woolly hats. We sang anPXL_20210914_225738266 (1) action song, Cold Hands to get ourselves warmed up and then we headed off to the snow. For no logical reason, we Row, row, rowed our boat there. On arrival in Antarctica we discovered blizzard conditions but luckily we found my ice cave and went inside. Penguin Problems was there ready and waiting for us and so from my ice cave we learnt about poor Penguin and all his problems. I’ll admit now that my well planned lessons often go astray, and in this case my plan to have a great follow up discussion about what we’d learned from the story was derailed by the fact that my class had spotted Squeaky (my mouse) in the cave by this stage and all they wanted to do is see what Squeaky could do in the ice cave. I’m sure you will manage to wrangle your class into worthwhile discussion much better than I did! To finish this nonsensical adventure we went outside of the ice cave and danced to Boogie Wonderland from Happy Feet.

Other Possibilities

Seesaw_15-09-2021Use an online drawing video to learn how to draw penguins with your class.

Because we’re in lockdown, I set my class the task of building their own caves at home. I showed them how I’d created my ice cave and shared pictures of other ideas. The photos that came through of the home caves were delightful, in some cases, the whole family got involved. Thanks Wei, for letting me share this gorgeous photo of your boys in their cave.

Borrow a copy of Penguin Problems from Auckland Libraries.

Buy a copy of Penguin Problems from Fishpond.


Take away the A in the classroom

Take away the A by Michael Escoffier

take awayWhat you’ll need

  • A copy of Take away the A (My review)
  • Art supplies

Age Level

Any aged class will happily listen to this story. For follow up activities and the ability to grasp the clever language concept, you probably want to reserve it for Year 4 and above.

Reading Take away the A

plantsThe concept is seemingly so simple and so clever. Each letter of the alphabet has its turn and pairs of words create a sentence. The second key word is the first key word minus a letter. I’m sure this could be explained more precisely using a mathematical formula like wo(A)rd + word = a hilarious sentence. Actually, let me just give some examples.

“Without the G the GLOVE falls in LOVE.” “Without the L PLANTS wear PANTS.” For some of the letters, the genius is in the sentence, and for others theglove illustration cleverly adds all sorts of additional meaning.

As soon as you get your hands on a copy of this book, it’s worth spending lots of time poring over the illustrations so you figure out all the jokes. There’s a couple of pages where you can pause for ages and eventually you start getting laughs as kids realise what’s happening in the illustration.

fourBefore reading, I usually explain that this book is very clever. I don’t spell out exactly how it works, but after a few pages some of the kids start to get it. If you’re going to use it for a follow up activity you might want to read it once, just enjoying the nonsense, and then work through a second time, really explicitly talking through how the pairs of words work.


Have the class come up with their own sentences. Some will catch on straight away and will be already creating them before you finish reading the first time through. Others will need a bit of guidance. It’s not a bad idea to come up with some initial simple words of your own (hill, bus, face) that you could work through with less confident kids.


This part can fill as much time as you have. You could have the class sketch a possible illustration to go with their sentence. Or it could be a full art lesson where you explore a medium like pastels, dye and crayon, sharpies and coloured pencils, or mixed materials like the book. The class could then create a full colour illustration to go with their sentence and these could be combined to create your very own version of Take away the A.

20190226_105321Here is one I loved, created by a Year 5 student. “Take away the L and the WORLD is a WORD.”

I have a confession to make. I’m done! That’s it, that’s all the picture book examples I had up my sleeve that I’ve actually used for lessons in the classroom.  So for now, I’ll have a bit of a break. But never fear, there are plenty of other ideas percolating. The next round of reviews might contain non-road-tested ideas. We’re still in Level 4 in Auckland so it might be a while before I can try them out myself, but feel free to share any wonderful successes you have here. Thanks for dropping by, see you soon!

Since I first reviewed this book, Auckland Libraries no longer has copies but National Library School Collection has copies, as do other libraries across New Zealand.

There are still copies for sale on Fishpond luckily!


Tyranno-sort-of Rex by Christopher Llewelyn; illustrated by Scott Tulloch (2015)

[Published by Scholastic New Zealand]

dinoHave you spent hours scratching your head over the instructions provided with kit-set furniture? Now imagine you have no instructions, and rather than a bookshelf, you’re putting together a dinosaur skeleton. Yup, that’s right, hilarious.

A ship’s cargo of three neatly packed sets of dinosaur bones arrive at the dock in a sad state, having weathered a violent storm. No longer divided, the bones are now merrily higglety pigglety.

Their delivery to the City Museum museum late at night and the day before an advertised exhibition of dinosaurs creates something of a challenge for the curator.

After a long night of sweating over power tools and unidentified bones, the curator creates three… um… sort of dinosaur skeletons.IMG_1907[1]

“Through half-closed eyes, it sort of looked fine,
but scattered around were spare bits of spine.
The leftover bones he’d just have to hide,
as people were already queueing outside.”

His various attempts at dinosaur creation are fantastic, and while regular dinosaurs are fairly crazy, these things are off the scale wacky. Told in fabulous rhyming verse, this story will have your audience in fits of laughter.

Check out Tyranno-sort-of-Rex at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy Tyranno-Sort-of Rex from Fishpond.


The Cloudspotter by Tom McLaughlin (2015)

[Published by Bloomsbury]


I have seen cookbooks beautifully displayed in kitchens, selected because of their ability to perfectly compliment the decor. Look what I found! My very own deliciously matching bathroom picture book. If it ever becomes a thing then I am totally sorted.

I had a very merry time wandering through the pages of The Cloudspotter with my two preschool nephews. The train fan was kept very happy, and it turns out they both love hot air balloons.

Franklin, better known as “The Cloudspotter,” enjoys a lot of entirely solitary cloud observation time. This is the way he likes it, free to pursue adventures in the sky, from swimming with jellyfish to driving racing cars. When The Scruffy Dog sniffs at the edges of his world, Franklin is not happy. “Was she after his clouds?” IMG_1895Eventually Franklin is pushed to drastic measures, enter the hot air balloon. When The Scruffy Dog sails forlornly away The Cloudspotter discovers that he’s pretty darn lonely. After an effective rescue attempt this lovely conclusion is reached, “Because, everyone knows, TWO cloudspotters are better than one… especially when you are BEST FRIENDS!”

The illustration and design of this picture book is truly beautiful. It’s another top to toe package of loveliness.

Check out The Cloudspotter at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy The Cloudspotter from Fishpond.


Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (2005)

[Published by Harcourt Children’s Books]

LeafMan2I was in the central city recently going for a wander and I came across some amazing leaves. They were such perfect leaf-examples that I picked them up and carried them with me to the car. When I got home I pinned them on the wall (remember, renovation, so all the walls in my house have the potential to become pinboards at the moment).

I’ve spotted them regularly over the weeks since they were 20150721_220509pinned and as their colour fades, so does a little bit of their beauty, but they still make me happy.

Today at university I discovered this picture book, and fell just a little bit in love with Lois Ehlert, “When I see a beautiful leaf, I have to pick it up. I can’t help myself; it’s something I’ve done all my life.” Lois’ secret is to take colour copies of the leaves she collects, and it is these images that fill the pages of Leaf Man.

“Leaf man used to live near me, in a pile of leaves. But yesterday the wind blew leaf man away.”


I’m sorry, my terrible phone photography does not do the artwork of this book justice (a cunning ploy to force you to get your own copy perhaps?) This is a wonderful imaginative story that will no doubt be the starting point from which amazing creative things will happen in your classroom or library.

Check out Leaf Man at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy Leaf Man from Fishpond.

Or check out my ideas for using Leaf Man in the classroom.


The skunk with no funk by Rebecca Young; illustrated by Leila Rudge (2015)

[Published by Walker Books Australia]


This book might be free of funk, but I’ll tell you what it did have, a giant cockroach stuck to its cover when I picked it up from my spare room. I’m not a total wimp, but I will admit it’s taken me some time to forgive old funk-less skunk-features enough to write a review. Everything is okay again now, and hopefully all the holes in our floor (courtesy of a house renovation) are covered so we will be cockroach-free in the future. Shaking it off…

When Woody was born he was lacking a vital detail, “Not a whiff of mud, not a sniff of swamp, not a dash of dung. No smell at all. Woody was a skunk with no funk!”

Woody’s mother worries for his safety, how can he possibly survive in the wild with no nasty smell to deter predators? She refuses to let him out of her sight. When Woody follows the song of a robin one day, he finds himself alone in the middle of a meadow. With hungry owls IMG_1828coming ever closer, Woody discovers that funk comes in many forms.

A beautifully told, wonderfully illustrated story.

Check out The skunk with no funk at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy The Skunk with No Funk from Fishpond.


Beautiful oops! by Barney Saltzberg (2010)

[Published by Workman Publishing]

oopsOopses come in all shapes and sizes, and some people seem to take any type of oops in their stride. For small people a tear, a spill, a stain or a hole can be catastrophic. For those small children, I prescribe Beautiful oops. (And for any parents dealing with such children, I prescribe  Reasons my kid is crying).

A series of oopses are documented in this clever book, complete with their wonderful transformations. Imagine a jagged tear in a page for example, turned into the mouth of a crocodile.IMG_1894

“Oops! A torn piece of paper…

Is just the beginning!”

The paper engineering is awesome, there are all sorts of flaps and folds to interact with, and treasures are revealed on every page. An important message delivered in a beautiful package. “When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something… beautiful!”

Check out Beautiful oops! at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy Beautiful Oops! [Board book] from Fishpond.


The Giant of Jum by Elli Woollard; illustrated by Benji Davies (2015)

[Published by MacMillan]


This story comes with a warning, a pre-read before unleashing it onto your audience is essential. I haltingly began to read it to my niece and nephews, and it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth page that I had mastered the metre (I’m a bit rusty on my poetry terms, hopefully that means what I think it means).

The grumpy old Giant of Jum is hungry. Based on the advice of his brother (you may remember him from a tale involving a beanstalk) he decides to go on the hunt for a small child named Jack.

When he makes it to town he stumbles across a large group of delicious small children,

“Fum!” he said and, “Fo!” he said and,”Fi!” he said and, “Fee!”

Children, I feel, make a fabulous meal.IMG_1882

I will gobble you up for my tea!”

The wily children enlist the giant’s help in rescuing their ball and then cat and finally in carrying a small person home. When it turns out the small person’s name is Jack it all becomes a bit edge-of-the-seat-worthy. But happily while there is a feast, no small children were harmed in its making.

With a cheeky wee nod to a traditional fairy tale, and cleverly shifting perspective in the illustrations, this neatly rhyming story (with a little practice) is a lot of fun to read aloud. Your audience will be fee fi fo and fumming all over the place.

Check out The giant of Jum at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy The Giant of Jum from Fishpond.


Home by Carson Ellis (2015)

[Published by Candlewick Press]


As I meandered through the first few pages of Home I thought, yup very pretty. And then I got to the underground lair home and the shoe house and it all just got very very great. Those of you who have hung out with me for a while will know about my penchant for a touch of crazy, and Home manages to joyfully incorporate this wacky element seamlessly.

“This is the home of a Slovakian duchess.

This is the home of a Kenyan blacksmith.

This is the home of a Japanese businessman.IMG_1899

This is the home of a Norse god.”

This illustrations are magnificent, the sort you pore over for hours, discussing in great detail with small people.

I have top to toe love for this beautiful book.

Check out Home from Auckland Libraries.

Or buy Home from Fishpond.

Or check out my ideas for using Home in the classroom.


Poppy Pickle, a little girl with a big imagination by Emma Yarlett (2015)

[Published by Templar Publishing]
Poppy Pickle is imagination central, she just bubbles and fizzes constantly with interesting ideas.

Mostly she manages to function as a normal girl, until the day she is sent upstairs to tidy her room. Not surprisingly, instead of tidying her room, she gets to work with some high quality imagining, and suddenly, the flying pig of her brain materialises before her!

It all gets chaotic after that. Well you’d want to see how far you could take it wouldn’t you? The cycling worm is probably my favourite Poppy-creation.IMG_1837

A room full of imagined beings gets noisy and eventually, out-of-control. When Poppy’s parents head upstairs to find out what’s going on, Poppy panics. And her room? Well let’s just say it hasn’t exactly benefited from Poppy’s “tidying” session.

Chock-a-block with wonderfully imaginative good times, today’s picture book made me very happy.

Check out Poppy Pickle at Auckland Libraries.

Or buy Poppy Pickle from Fishpond.