My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis. copy provided by publisher, Candlewick. Gift set.
The Plot: A little boy writes to Santa, asking for a real penguin. He's learned that one must be very specific with the old guy, otherwise when you ask for a sports car you get a toy sports car. So the boy is specific, down to the penguin's name: Osbert.
The Good: As you've probably realized, I got a box of cool holiday books from the folks at Candlewick. I pulled out this book and thought, hey I know this author; it took me a second and then I was, d'uh. She wrote Stone Circle, a great time-slip story set in Wales.
Topic. "Beware what you ask for." The boy gets a real penguin, and after the initial fun, the responsibility sinks in; as does the fact that the penguin is its own being, with likes, dislikes, and needs (like cold creamed herring with seaweed jam instead of chocolate chip waffles.) So the boy learns not just about being responsible for another living thing; but, also, that a being isn't a toy.
It's funny and sweet; and the narrator is a typical kid. I loved the surreal part of the story in that the parents are never pictured; from the narration, it appears that they just accept Osbert's existence, such as when Mom actually does serve cold creamed herring. And seaweed jam.
The toy: yep, it comes with a real stuffed penguin (no fear of frostbite.) Penguins are still an "it" toy, and Osbert is very soft and cuddly. A great read aloud for younger readers; the package warns to remove all tags, etc before giving to very young children.