By Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet
(Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006)
The penguin craze may have faded, but what kid wouldn't think it (icy) cool to have a tuxedo waddler for a pet? There's something adorable about penguins until you think about their living habits. As the title makes clear, this book involves an awful lot more than a single penguin moving in.
On January 1st a box arrives at the host family's door, along with the unsigned note, "I'm number 1. Feed me when I'm hungry." Inside the box, a penguin. Each day another delivery, another penguin. The illustrations are simple yet expressive with a limited, cool color palette of blue, black, white and Creamsicle orange. (Initially, I found the color mix jarring, but when I consulted classes, they spoke favorably of the artistic decision. With only a few colors, the pictures are fresh.)
With the penguin population creating havoc in the household, the father strives to stop the madness. The fish loving residents are organized into pyramids and stored in cabinet drawers, but each new arrival changes order to disorder.
The book is as loaded with math as it is with penguins. (For example, on the 144th day, each of the twelve cabinets holds twelve penguins.) I have challenged classes with a simple question to guide their focus before I read the book: Where's the math? Students jot down math terms, operations, subjects and scenarios as I read. (Most memorably, the book became a huge hit with a grade seven boy who hated math and who worked well below grade level. He beamed as he presented me with a full page of math jottings after I finished the book. He proudly borrowed the oversized picture book and read it several times at home on his own and to his younger brother. Yes, penguins provided the first spark he'd felt regarding math—or reading—in a long time.)
Some of the math tie-ins are obvious, others more subtle, more incidental. Most importantly, the math adds to the fun of the goofy story. 365 Penguins could be enjoyed dozens of times , making home or class reading time exponentially more rewarding.