It’s hard to pull off a children’s book where none of the characters appear to be… you know, actual children, but author/illustrator Alex T. Smith nails it in MR. PENGUIN AND THE LOST TREASURE.
Again, thank you to Peachtree for the review copy, which they kindly provided for me to evaluate as a Cybils panelist.
The book opens like a flip take on a detective-noir-meets-Indiana-Jones film: Mr. Penguin has sunk his fortune setting himself up as a professional adventurer in Cityville, but needs a case so he can afford more fish finger sandwiches.
Enter Miss Boudicca Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects, who needs Mr. Penguin to help her find her late grandfather’s buried treasure to keep the museum from going into disrepair.
Together with his dapper, wise sidekick Colin ( a bowler-hat-wearing spider who lives in a file cabinet drawer and communicates through written messages), Mr. Penguin leaps into action!
The close-third narrative, absurdist antics and ambiguous place in history vibe read like Lemony Snicket trying his hand at comedy and succeeding.
Spoiler: Mr. Penguin almost loses the treasure to jewel thieves but his pigeon-obsessed, bunny-slipper-wearing elderly female friend helps him save the day.
Smith’s textured, tri-color illustrations are visually fascinating, detailed to where they’re just this side of distracting from the text.
At 202 pages (to be fair, these are very short chapters, and every spread has either an illustration or an orange page) I don’t know that I agree this is an “early chapter book”. This action-packed book is ridiculous and madcap enough that a reluctant reader will keep turning the pages without asking where are the bad language and fart jokes.