Well done, Mummy Penguin

‘Well Done, Mummy Penguin’ comes out on October the 6th, its my 7th book. 

As usual, I thought I would put up a few early sketches here and write a little about how the idea came about. Before I had the idea for this book I was working on a project about a big, bad wolf. The wolf was absolutely awful, a real pantomime baddie. Annoying all the animals in the forest. That part was funny.  But I was having trouble making the ending work. He needed to come to a sticky end but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Anyway… this went on for quite a few months. It was working but not working so it was a bit frustrating. As usual.

Then, one evening, I watched a David Attenborough documentary. I think it was an oldish one. It was over lockdown. And a scene came on with penguins battling to get back home in very rough conditions and I thought… wait a minute… this is a great story. Exactly as it is. I immediately took out my sketchbook and drew out a few images. 

I thought it would be good if a baby and parent were watching the other parent trying to desperately get back home. It was going to be a dad to begin with, I think that was how it was in the documentary, it went something like this:

I sent it to my editor Deirdre. She urged me to drop the big bad wolf idea and work on this instead. So I did. I was very happy about doing this new story, I had done an animation about climate change a few years ago set in Antarctica and I liked the setting and always intended to do more on that.

It was working ok. The only problem for me was the story was that it had to cut back and forth between the dad and the pair at home. We had to be careful because although we adults can follow a story like that without even thinking about it a very, very young child will not get it. We dont realise how unintuitive those sorts of edits are.  Young children need a very clear continuity to be able to follow the story. It’s probably not quite as simple as some of my other books but I think we managed to make it clear enough. 

I didn’t like the way it was presenting the dad as going out to sea while the mum stayed at home so I swapped the genders around. The gender swap was interesting though. When the joke was on a disastrous dad it all seemed funny, but when it’s a disastrous mum it’s somehow not very funny at all, its actually quite alarming. There has been a conversation about how dads get praised for doing the bare minimum while mums often do the work day in and day out without credit. This gender reversal really seemed to underline it. Credit where credit is due.

I started doing some character sketches in colour to figure out the penguins… 

After that I went as usual to papercut.

I played around with some textures for the splashes like I did with the wave scene in little crab. And because it was really fun to do.

There was going to be some snow in it too but it seemed to distracting in the end.

I really enjoyed doing the water. The reflections and the smoothness… to me that is the most beautiful thing about those  Antarctic landscapes. 

Here are some finished pages. In all of my books I hide a squirrel. See if you can spot her.

I wanted to do a poster that would come with the book. I made a poster for the climate change animation and it was popular with schools. (You can print your own here) I like thinking of these sorts of ideas but I rarely get to do them because they are a bit unusual or because of cost or distribution issues. Last year myself and Deirdre (my editor at Walker) were doing a lot of walking around outside, still in semi-lockdown mode. We always have a little look in the nice independent bookshops as we pass. Then one day we struck on an idea. We could do a poster that comes with the book but they are only given to independent bookstores. It’s a nice way to give independent bookshops something back.

Well Done, Mummy Penguin comes out in these european languages (and Japanese and others) on Oct 6th. Hope you like it!  If you enjoyed this post you might like the posts I have done about my other books here

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