{book} penguin’s hidden talent

on

DAY 19

Penguin’s Hidden Talent by Alex Latimer

Peachtree, 2012 (originally published in GB w/ Random House, 2012).

ages 4-8.

I promised it would only take a few minutes in the Picture Book section of the Children’s Library…This one was face-out atop a shelf and I thought it looked fun. It does doesn’t it? I tucked it away without even reading the synopsis. I figured it was one of those talent show books. It is and it isn’t. And by the way, it is fun.

The Big Annual Talent Show is coming up and Penguin can’t think of anything special talent he could perform. His friends try to help him with ideas, but really he just isn’t talented in the ways they are—eating giant fish whole, juggling appliances, or burping the whole alphabet. Even if he cannot be on stage, maybe he can help with the planning of the actual event. Eventually, Penguin does discover that he truly is gifted. What is cool is how it is a gift that doesn’t necessarily put him in the limelight, center stage, and adorned in medals, but he is appreciated nonetheless and by story’s end he’s properly celebrated (even if he did have to help plan that too!).

If I had been younger the sound would have been less a chuckle and more a giggle. The humor Alex Latimer brings to his penciled characters is ridiculously cute. His sequences, his spare reliance on text, works in a story form that should be using its visual medium as a narrator. The placement of image and text create the narrative in the subtle ways a well-designed picture book will; depending on the order, one understates the other. Some pages are just images who speak for themselves and I like the kind of participation that requires. It isn’t hard. It’s fun. And really, Latimer’s work here in Penguin’s Hidden Talent is organized in a way that should feel familiar to readers of comics.

The illustrations are uncluttered as the story, and as humorous—seemingly effortless all the way around. And the penguin isn’t creepy. Really, after Wallace and Gromit, they kinda freak me out. Penguin’s Hidden Talent is inspiring as well. It’s been awhile but can I manage to burp the whole alphabet like I used to? Penguin’s Hidden Talent is a good friendship story, too. Penguin wants to participate and finds a way to do so without begrudging his friends their skills. Sure, he is sad he doesn’t get a medal, but then it is his friends’ turn to support him. It is really sweet the gifts they think up because if you remember Penguin’s living room near the start, it shows how well his friends know him. In the end, it is they who recognize and reveal to Penguin what his talent is. They are able to help Penguin discover his hidden talent after all. I appreciate that not once does Latimer spell it out in words (narrative or dialog) the ‘everyone has their own abilities’ lesson, but leaves its evidence throughout—I mean, who else can pull themselves out of a magician’s hat? And who else could organize the kind of talent show that involves fireworks, jets, mice on stilts, a special appearance by the King of Norway, and top it all off with a musical performance by The Jolly Llamas!

{all images belong to Alex Latimer} Alex Latimer has another picture book called The Boy Who Cried Ninja—I cannot wait to see this one. Another author/illustrator to keep on the radar.

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