Penguins of Doom (From the Desk of Septina Nash), by Greg Fishbone, is a fun romp aimed squarely at middle grade readers. The format and voice of Penguins of Doom are both unique. The story is told entirely in the form of letters, all written and illustrated by a seventh grade girl name Septina Nash. The illustrations, one or more on nearly every page spread, are small, black and white drawings, the kind of thing a 7th grader might draw on a note to someone he or she was trying to impress.
Septina the seventh grader is the seventh child of Sal and Viyayai Nash, the third born out of a set of triplets. She's the outlandish one, with purple hair, and a knack for making unexpected things happen. Her triplet-brother, Quinn, is nice, but fairly geeky (he gets picked on in gym). Their triplet-sister, Sexta, is difficult and disagreeable. Says Septina: "Sexta's mission in life is to ruin everyone else's good time".
As the book begins, Sexta has made her family's life difficult by disappearing, apparently a runaway, but having possibly been abducted. The remainder of the book chronicles, loosely, Septina's attempts to bring her sister home. There are many madcap diversions along the way, including a boy band, an evil nemesis, three communicative penguins, a gigantic pile of empty yogurt containers, a skate-board champion, and a shrink-ray gun. Numbers also play a part, especially sevens and threes.
It took me a little while to get comfortable with this book, because I couldn't tell if the things that Septina was describing in her letters to various people (many of which were letters of excuse) were supposed to be real, or to demonstrate Septina's creative imagination. I think that's part of the joke, though. That some of the things are real, but that Septina's teachers think that she's either delusional or a liar. I think that kids will probably take the whole thing at face value right from the beginning, and have a great time with it.
Septina completely accepts (and sometimes instigates) bizarre things happening to and around her. For example, when asked to set up a parent-teacher conference, she invites her teacher's parents. And they attend. She takes it in stride, and ends up working with the teacher's parents to help find the teacher a husband. Similarly, when some penguins start following her around, she takes them as pets. Because what else would you do?
Septina also has an wonderfully unconscious wit. Here are two examples:
"The school counselor, Mr. Goode, keeps running into us "accidentally" in the halls. He says he wants Quinn and me to know that his door is always open. I don't know why he's chosen to tell us about his maintenance problems, but I'll see what I can do." (Chapter: On a Cold and Dreary Missing Sister Day)
I watched the news on three stations last night, and each forecaster promised six to eight inches of snow by this morning -- more than enough to cancel school. As you know, we only got three inches of snow. If anyone should get a bad grade in math it's a forecaster who thinks that "three" falls between "six" and "eight." (Chapter: On a Day That Should Be a Snow Day)
The illustrations make this book appear, at first, to be for younger readers. But a closer look reveals that these are complex pictures, many including words and/or numbers, that are just the thing to please older elementary school kids. For example, there's a sketch of a guy whose "face looks like somebody's butt." And it does. There's also a diagram of a box trap that Septina's dad sets up for Sexta, baited with fashion magazines.
The sketches are highly entertaining, and give the book a hint of a graphic novel feel. Although the main character is a girl, the sketches and diagrams, not to mention many of the events, feel boy-friendly, too. I think that Penguins of Doom will please boys and girls or all ages, nine and up.
Book: Penguins of Doom (From the Desk of Septina Nash)
Author: Greg R. Fishbone (blog). See also the Septina Nash website
Publisher: Blooming Tree Press
Original Publication Date: July 7, 2007
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Advance reader copy
Other Blog Links: See interviews of Greg Fishbone by Sarah Beth Durst and cynsations.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.