Spotlight On: Penguin by Polly Dunbar

Spotlight On gives you the chance to learn more about the wonderful picture books included in this year's Bookbug bags for babies, toddlers and explorers. In a special blog for Bookbug Week 2018, we're delighted to turn the spotlight on Penguin by Polly Dunbar. Penguin is currently included in our Bookbug Explorer Bag.


The idea for the book Penguin was inspired by an old toy penguin given to me by my brother, Ben. He told me not to let anyone touch this very special penguin - he might bite!

I drew a quick sketch of a little boy being bitten on the nose by Penguin and from there the story grew. I started out writing with just pictures, mapping out the friendship with body language and gesture. It was one of those very rare times when the story seemed to write itself. Children can read expressions long before words so it makes sense to me to tell the story visually and of course Penguin talks in his own language of pictures at the end.

Penguin and Ben by Polly Dunbar

When I read Penguin to an audience, I think of of it as a mini performance with as much participation as possible. I have a puppet Penguin that the children enjoy trying to make talk; they tickle him, prod him and blow raspberries at him. I’ve found even if I don’t have the puppet with me children will still become involved, tickling the pictures on the page or trying to stand on their head as Ben does. The refrain ‘Penguin says nothing’ invites the children to join in verbally too, (even if the Penguin won’t).

Penguin by Polly Dunbar

I hoped the story would make children and their grown-ups laugh. If a book is enjoyable to read it is also enjoyable to listen to. Penguin seems to work on deeper levels too; I didn’t set out to write a story that explored friendship, empathy or communication. Sometime you have to just make stuff up, uninhibited, and find out what it’s about afterwards. Penguin seems to particularly connect with children who are on the autistic spectrum and perhaps have difficulty expressing themselves in the usual ways. I’ve also had many letters from parents of deaf children who have found the book to have a special resonance with their children. This is interesting and touching for me as my mum is profoundly deaf.

Penguin and Ben by Polly Dunbar

So if a story that has a silent bird, a strange blue passing lion and a random rocket can help children with self-expression and friendship in its different forms, then I’m really very happy. All that aside, Ben was right, this Penguin really does bite...

Other books about friendship that I like include:

You can celebrate Bookbug Week with more wonderful picture books about friendship on our lists for 0-2 year-olds and 3-7 year-olds. You can also watch a wonderful film of a family sharing Penguin on the Bookbug website.

Polly Dunbar

Polly Dunbar is one of the most well known author/illustrators working in the UK today. She has created many much loved books for children including Penguin, which has won numerous awards and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.