Penguin Story

Antoinette Portis's first picture book, Not a Box, was a stunning exploration of the imaginative world of early childhood. With a deft hand for sophisticated simplicity, Portis does it again with a graphic examination of the way color is central to our lives. The main character is Edna, a penguin. Edna, a torpedo-shaped form, bisected in black and white, placidly observes the colors that surround her. " 'White,' thinks Edna." As we join her gazing across an expanse of snow that reaches to the horizon a narrow band just inches from the top of the page. Short brushstrokes of white are tapped across the surface, indicating falling snow. The snowflakes subtly change shades, white on the gray sky transforming to a light gray and drifting to join the snow on the ground. Edna yearns for more colors as she observes the black of the night, then the blue of the sea and sky. She ventures forth on her quest for a hue that is not white, not black, and not blue. After a long expedition, she literally falls into a hill of safety orange. Edna embraces the glaring color and runs home as fast as she can to share her discovery. The community of penguins, following her lead, immediately begin the arduous journey over the frozen landscape. They finally arrive at the vivid arc of color that is the orange-clad Antarctic scientists' tent. Portis combines clean line with a limited palette, a very few words, and a deadpan sense of humor to create a surprisingly affecting tale of the quest for a world beyond our everyday experience.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

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