Vampenguin – written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Vampenguin – written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Atheneum Books, Simon & Schuster, 2021. 9781534466982

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  The Dracula family has planned a Saturday at the zoo (in fact, it looks like the Central Park Zoo). Mom does not seem to be a vampire, but she does rock thigh-high black boots and cat-eyed sunglasses. Dad, Big Brother, and Baby all sport widow’s peaks and capes. An unattended door in the Penguin House leads to a mix-up; Baby ends up in the exhibit and a little penguin takes his place in the stroller. No one notices and the family continues to enjoy their outing while Baby entertains the penguins with his novel behavior. In the end, everyone gets back to the right place. I thought the very accomplished and slightly retro pencil and gouache illustrations were a hoot. I especially loved the 4 vignettes over two pages showing the every-family zoo experience: 3 exhibits with no sign of animals but one glimpse of a lion and the enclosure is so mobbed that viewing is impossible. With its generous size, heavy paper, supersaturated colored pages and many, gorgeous illustrations spreading over two pages, the book feels special. The Dracula family is White, but many zoo visitors and workers are BIPOC.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Sometimes the plot lacked continuity and occasionally the contrast between the text and the image were downright perplexing. Where does that family get the instant outerwear for the polar bear exhibit? Why does the text tell us that the family was delighted with the sea lion demonstration but show them looking disgusted? Where do the penguins get all those beach towels? It’s possible children will merely enjoy the idea of vampires at the zoo and not be bothered by my confusion.

To whom would you recommend this book?  The images are large and clear, thus making Vampenguin a good read aloud for ages 4-8. This could be a nice alternative for a Halloween program. Predicting what will happen and noticing what’s wrong are always fun and this book allows for both activities.

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? No

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

Date of review: August 6, 2021

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