I Am Not a Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament – written and illustrated by Liz Wong

  I Am Not a Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament – written and illustrated by Liz Wong, Alfred A. Knopf, 9780593127407, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  A pangolin shows up to tell everyone about his unusual species (maybe a talk at his local library?). However, the other animals second-guess their way through his entire presentation. He has scales but the snake thinks he’s silly looking. His long sticky tongue confuses the pig, who thinks he’s an anteater or maybe a frog. Claws? Maybe he’s a bear? And everyone is disappointed that he’s not a penguin; when that avian celebrity shows up with a surfboard, everyone stampedes to the beach, leaving the pangolin looking dejected in a pile of his visual aids. But there’s one audience member left, a little girl who’s interested in him! They have a great time looking through all his posters, which are filled with pangolin facts.

I loved this book! The beautiful and simple gouache illustrations have a sweet, cartoonish look. The animals are a bit silly and anthropomorphic, with easy-to-read expressions and talk bubbles for dialogue. The carefully prepared informational placards spill into the final few pages and end papers, giving lots of interesting pangolin facts. The pangolin all-caps freakout when he tips over into a diatribe about his non-penguinness is hysterical.  All the characters are animals, except for the little girl in the audience, who has black hair and Asian features.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No.

To whom would you recommend this book?  This story is funny, clever and good for those interested in pangolins. However, you could also see it as a metaphor for nonconforming individuals or for those who don’t fit neatly into a ready-made ethnic or racial checklist. The lesson of the story is that we often don’t respect or listen to what someone is trying to tell us about themselves, i.e, the danger of the single story. With its gentle humor, large images and arresting themes, this book would be an excellent read aloud.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 27, 2021

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