I love discovering new (to me) picture books that are perfect for including when teaching thematic units in kindergarten! There are so many wonderful penguin books out there—both fiction and nonfiction. For this post, I am highlighting three books I recently discovered (but I will list several additional favorite penguin books at the end)!
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Read on to learn more about these penguin books and how to use them in your teaching!
Teaching with Penguin Books: The King Penguin
The King Penguin by Vanessa Roeder (2023) is about a penguin named Percival, who believes that being a king penguin entitles him to be the King Penguin—crown and all! Percival’s power goes to his head, the other penguins stage a coup, and Percival sets off to find a new kingdom to rule. When the other creatures he encounters all want to eat him, he becomes discouraged, but it isn’t until he meets an emperor penguin that it dawns on him where he went wrong! Percival heads back home and learns to work with others as part of a peaceful colony.
This book is an excellent addition to a penguin unit in many ways! For one thing, there’s a lot of good vocabulary. In addition to the king and emperor penguins, six other penguin species are included. The illustrations and dialog make clever plays on the penguin names (“So if I’m a macaroni penguin, does that make me pasta?”) that observant kids will find amusing. There are also several other polar animals included. As children learn more about penguins, they may notice that some of these are animals that a penguin would be unlikely to encounter in real life (hello, polar bears!), so this is a great opportunity to discuss elements of fiction and nonfiction.
Here are some more teaching ideas for The King Penguin:
🐧 Listen for alliteration!
This book makes major use of alliteration (the repetition of initial letter sounds). There are lots of P words throughout the book, as well as several other alliterative phrases (“slippery subjects,” “raucous residents”). Challenge students to listen for words that start with the same sound and raise their hands when they hear examples. This is a fun phonemic awareness challenge! You also might want to list the P-words children hear in the story on chart paper.
🐧 Focus on rich vocabulary.
The King Penguin is filled with quality vocabulary (examples: protest, scoured, persisted, persevered, establish). Choose a few words to pre-teach so students can listen for them as you read. Challenge students to think of their own sentences using the target words.
🐧 Relate to classroom culture and community.
Percival begins the story as a very bossy penguin. He is initially quite inconsiderate of the needs and feelings of the other penguins. He then learns the value of being a peace-keeping penguin that prioritizes kindness and cooperation. Consider having students discuss, write, or draw about their own experiences with how to be a leader among their peers.
🐧 Compare literature.
Use The King Penguin as part of a lesson in comparing and contrasting stories. Books with similar themes include Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss, The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill, and Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler.
Teaching with Penguin Books: Lost and Found
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (2005) is book two of the four-book The Boy series written and illustrated by Jeffers. Lost and Found is a sweet story of a boy who finds a penguin on his doorstep and assumes the penguin is lost. After doing some research, the boy determines that he must bring the penguin back to the South Pole, even if that means rowing him across the ocean.
The boy and the penguin bond during their long journey, and when the boy leaves the penguin behind in Antarctica, the penguin appears to be sad. The boy realizes that the penguin wasn’t lost—he was lonely. Eventually, the two friends are reunited and begin the journey back across the sea.
This story is heavy on imagination and lighter on the science connections, but it is a wonderful way to integrate some fiction into your penguin unit. Consider using a globe to track the boy and the penguin’s journey.
Here are additional ideas for using Lost and Found in your classroom:
🐧 Lead into a social-emotional learning lesson.
This gentle story leaves the listener time to think about the emotions the boy and the penguin are feeling. Talk about the words the author uses to describe feelings, and then think of additional words that we can infer as we read. For example, the author mentions “sad,” “disappointed,” and “lonely.” In other scenes, we can infer that the characters might have felt content, scared, relieved, or excited. Consider listing these “feelings words” on a chart for students to refer to when writing and talking about their own experiences.
🐧 Explore Antarctica.
After reading about the boy and his penguin friend’s imaginary journey to the South Pole, students may be curious about the explorers and scientists who visit Antarctica in real life. Here’s a video about a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker ship that works to clear a channel supply ships will use to access the Antarctic coast.
And here’s another that takes students on a virtual field trip to Antarctica.
🐧 Compare literature.
Use Lost and Found as part of a lesson in comparing and contrasting stories. Books with similar themes include the other books in “The Boy” series by Oliver Jeffers, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
Teaching with Penguin Books: Penguin Problems
Penguin Problems by Jory Johns and Lane Smith (2016) is a story in first-person (or first-penguin?) perspective told by a penguin with a negative outlook on life. Anyone who has woken up on the wrong side of the bed can relate to this grumpy bird who is irritated by everything and everyone around him. The expressive illustrations and simple text emphasize how truly dissatisfied this fellow is.
Finally, after pages of complaints, the penguin encounters a friendly walrus who waxes poetic about all of the good things in life. This gives the penguin pause, allowing him to feel a (brief) appreciation for his life and surroundings.
Penguin Problems is a perfect fiction pick for your penguin unit—it draws attention to features of penguins and their environment in an uncomplicated manner while also entertaining the reader with lighthearted illustrations and scenarios.
Here are additional ideas for using Penguin Problems in your classroom:
🐧Learn about penguin predators.
The penguin protagonist of this story encounters a leopard seal, an orca, and a shark while diving for food. This video (a little stressful to watch—though the penguin is safe at the end) shows a real penguin escaping from a leopard seal. It’s interesting to see how huge leopard seals are compared to penguins. You may just want to show the video starting at the 2:00 point when the penguin is safely on the ice.
🐧Waddle like a penguin.
Though the Penguin Problems narrator is not fond of his waddle, most people acknowledge it as one of a penguin’s cutest features! Give your students a brain break and a chance to get their wiggles out by waddling along to the “Penguin Polka!”
🐧 Compare literature.
Use Penguin Problems as part of a lesson in comparing and contrasting stories. Books with similar themes include Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, and Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne and Max Lang.
More Penguin Books to Read Aloud in Kindergarten
More Penguin Resources from My Happy Place
Find 30 Perfect Penguin Videos for Kindergarten in this blog post.
Read about a fun penguin math snack here (and grab a free ten-frame mat)!