Elliot is a quiet, reserved boy who likes to dress in tuxedos while his equally quirky father always sports chartreuse green plaid suits. At the aquarium’s Family Fun Day, Elliot sneaks off from the crowds and becomes amused by the penguins, which resemble him with their own black feather tuxedos and proper posture. When he asks his father for a penguin, of course, his father assumes he means a stuffed animal and gladly hands over 20 dollars.
After stowing a penguin he names Magellan (after the explorer, who happened to be another dapper guy) into his backpack, Elliot stealthily tries to replicate Antarctic conditions in his bedroom with an inflatable swimming pool and an air conditioner set to freezing. The hilarity continues to mount as Elliot attempts to hide the penguin around the house from his absentminded father (who has a hidden exotic animal of his own).
In outstanding picture books, the text and illustrations work in tandem to tell the story. In One Cool Friend, Toni Buzzeo’s sharp writing and Caldecott Medalist David Small’s expressive illustrations, rendered in pen and ink, watercolor and colored pencil, brilliantly blend to set up the comedy. The mostly black-and-white illustrations resemble the attire of Elliot and his penguin, with splashes of color adding effect and highlighting their instant bond.
Observant readers will find plenty of clues about the father’s traveling profession and his rare pet. Both Buzzeo and Small have outdone themselves in this sure hit.
Angela Leeper is director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond.