Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith: a hilarious story that reminds each Mortimer in us to enjoy the small things

Jory John, Penguin Problems. Illustrated by Lane Smith

Published 2016 by Walker Books, 32p


Mortimer is a young penguin living in Antarctica, the source of his biggest problems. “It’s too early”, “My beak is cold”, “The sun is too bright here”, “It snows too much”, “I’m hungry”, “I don’t like being hunted”, “I wish I could fly” Mortimer would complain all day long. He can’t even spot his parents in a group of identical birds.



Overwhelmed by the complexity of his issues, he eventually bursts out: “And nobody even cares!” when a calm, passing walrus greets him and offers a list of reasons to enjoy the day:

I sense that today has been difficult, but lo! Look around you, Penguin! Have you noticed the way the mountains are reflected in the ocean like a painting? Have you gazed upon the blue of that cloudless, winter sky, my friend? Have you felt the sun as it gently warms your back? Have you simply stood with your penguin brothers and sisters and elders, who adore you?

Yes, some things are challenging out here. Yes, we all have difficult moments, from the walruses to the polar bears, from the whales to the penguins. But hear me now, my new friend: I wouldn’t trade my life for any other, and I am quite sure you wouldn’t, either. I am certain that when you think about it, you’ll realize that you are exactly where you need to be.

The walrus’s speech draws Mortimer’s attention on the beauty of the mountains and the ocean but at the end of the day his skepticism will nevertheless have the last word.

Highly recommended; Mortimer is a hilarious definition of pessimism and unhappiness but there is hope and you can read a lot between the lines. John’s text is funny and meaningful and Lane Smith’s illustrations are, as I always say, perfect.

Complement Penguin Problems with Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green, a beautiful picture book about how memories keep us alive and Oliver Jeffers’s Lost and Found, a magical story about friendship.


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