Sunday, December 14, 2008

Careful What You Wish For! My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

This year I was very specific in my letter to Santa Claus.

We have had a few misunderstandings in the past. For instance, last year I asked for a fire-engine-red race car with a detachable roof, a lightning bolt on the side, and retractable headlights.

And he did get me one. But it was three inches long!

We've all read those Christmas stories where a kid perseveres in getting his or her heart's desire until the climax of the book and lives, we are sure, happily ever after--or at least until time for Santa's next visit.

Elizabeth Cody Kimmel cleverly flips this well-worn premise in her popular picture book My Penguin Osbert (Book and Toy Gift Set). After a couple of "misunderstandings" with Santa, Joe methodically sets forth exactly what he wants for Christmas this year:

So this year I was really, really careful. I wrote Santa a long letter and told him that I would like to have my own pet penguin. NOT a stuffed penguin, but a REAL one from Antarctica. I told him my penguin should be one foot tall, white and black with a yellow beak, and his name should be OSBERT.

And this time Santa comes through. Joe finds exactly what he wished for on Christmas morning--a cute penguin with a tag around his neck reading "Hello! My name is Osbert."

But Joe soon learns that the care and feeding of Osbert requires some, er, attitude adjustments on his own part--long, freezing hours of outdoor play in the snow, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners of creamed herring (no pancakes with warm syrup for Joe), and long COLD baths with Osbert, ICY baths which go on for hours--but Joe pluckily perseveres to hold up his end of the deal.

"I had asked for Osbert, and now I had him,"

Joe does his best to give Osbert what he needs to be a happy penguin. But as days and days of frost nipped fingers and icy baths stretch ahead, Joe decides to pen a polite letter suggesting that Santa might want to swap his gift and take Osbert back to a place where he would be more comfortable. Sure enough, Joe finds a beautifully wrapped gift from Santa at the foot of his bed, but inside he finds only a warm pullover sweater and two tickets to Antarctic World at the zoo. It's a long walk to the zoo, but Osbert doesn't like bus rides and, as Joe dutifully reminds himself, "I asked for Osbert and now I had him."

But at Penguin Place at the zoo, Joe sees everything Osbert really needs--lots of penguins, snow slides with a big icy pool at the bottom, and all the herring he can eat.

I asked him if he would be happier living at the Penguin Place. Osbert looked into my eyes and then he nodded.

It's not the happy ending Joe asked for, but it is a happy outcome for both Joe and Osbert. It's a tongue-in-cheek bittersweet ending as Joe learns a thing or two about vetting his wishes before he makes them, but the kindly message of personal responsibility goes down easily, aided remarkably by artist H. B. Lewis' wonderful blue-toned wintry landscapes and the expressive faces of both Joe and his irrepressible pet.

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