We finally took my two year old to see March of the Penguins. We went to the movie theater after his nap, with an insulated bag full of snacks (grapes, cucumber slices and cheddar cheese). We bought popcorn and bottled water, and sat in the middle of the theater.
Amazingly, my son was able to sit through the whole picture. He did switch laps a few times. He was very excited about the movie. As soon as the penguins appeared on the screen, he began saying "Penguins! Penguins!" and didn't stop for about 20 minutes, maybe longer. Then there was a lull, in which he just watched and ate treats. Then the egg appeared, and he started exclaiming "Egg! Egg!" and then was quiet again until the chicks. The chicks excited him the most, he commented on them and on their parents feeding them, as he does at home. But then, for him, the most exciting part was looking behind him and seeing the movie on the surface of the window of the projectionist's booth! After the picture was over, we asked the projectionist to let us see how the movie works, and he graciously showed us. How much my son understood I don't know, but it was neat.
Let me also tell you something about the movie, especially to my reader Beth who has to wait until it comes out on DVD to see it. As you probably have gathered, it's a scripted documentary about emperor penguins mating and raising young in Antarctica. The film, a full-length feature at 80 minutes, has great pacing. It felt short! The penguins are beautiful, getting to watch them walk and slide over the landscape was incredible. The film editor managed to capture both the sense of the birds' nobility and grace and how comic and cute they are.
Probably the most beautiful thing to watch was the mating dance. The emperors bow to each other, and caress each other with their beaks and heads, before they mate. It looked stylized but also affectionate, if that makes sense. I couldn't tell if I was anthropomorphizing the birds or whether they have the emotions we ascribe to them. It's really hard to raise penguin chicks, there are so many opportunities to screw it up. After the mothers lay their eggs, they have to transfer them to the father's feet. If they fail, the egg will freeze quickly. The cries of the penguins who made this mistake sounded disappointed, they looked sad. Penguin chicks, once they hatch, are similarly vulnerable. The filmmaker captured a mother whose chick had frozen during a blizzard, who then tried to steal another mother's chick. The bereft mother's cries of grief, and then the way that the other mothers prevented her from stealing the chick--it felt biblical to me.
We are definitely going to buy this on DVD because I hope there will be more information about how they made the film. There were some shots of the camera crew in the credits, but not nearly enough.
I don't know if my son will stay infatuated with penguins but I am definitely hooked. I am not the most perfectly religious person, but seeing beautiful things in the natural world brings out my inner believer. The penguins are brave and noble and they cooperate in community, they love each other, they stick together in a crisis. They also fight with each other, slapping each other with their flippers and yelling in their honking voices. They walk funny and they have sweetly funny faces. Yes, yes, just like my people.
We have not yet seen March of the Penguins, but I have some reviews of the children's books about penguins we have been reading, and a few more penguin sites you might enjoy. The short review of the four books we got is: We like them all. That is good, because we read them a LOT!
I ordered the McMillan book first and it arrived last by several weeks! My son likes the toddler books. He immediately began memorizing the McMillan book, which he calls "Penguins rhyme" since, you know, who are these puffins anyway. It has only Gentoo penguins and one species of puffins, and at the end, a compare and contrast list of their characteristics. It's cool (hah!) to have these two sea birds from either end of the globe in one book. The puffins are really beautiful!
I would recommend Busy Penguins as the first book to introduce a child to this subject. It has many polar penguins, the photos are great, the rhymes are actually a bit better than the ones in the McMillan book, and it's a board book, which is easier for most children to keep nice. My son is very good with books, but I think even he has made small accidental tears in some favorites in his eagerness to turn fragile, shiny pages.
The other two books were a little advanced for a two year old. My son is now 29 months and mainly speaks in two or three word sentences. He tends to have patience for books that are a little ahead of him if they are about something that interests him. I think this is not uncommon!
This was my exposure to this series. The authors are a married couple, a pediatric nurse and doctor, who have travelled the world taking photographs for nature books for children. Baby Penguin is about an adolescent king penguin chick. King penguins have an enormous rookery and colony on South Georgia island. My husband thinks the photographs look like a Grateful Dead concert. I think some two year olds would be disturbed that the penguin baby book is about how the parents abandon the baby when it's about 13 months old and leave it to fledge with other chicks the same age. The book does show an egg on a parent's feet and a parent feeding a chick...but not a new baby chick, one of these enormous fuzzy bowling ball chicks. Lang tells you that year-old king penguin chicks are "as tall as kitchen tables". We compared my son to the kitchen table and he's the same height as a king penguin chick! In a postscript (one of those "Did you know?" lists) that the king penguin chick "resists starvation better than any warm blooded creature on earth." Well, that's reassuring! My son is not disturbed, he really likes the book and yells out "kitchen table!"
We got a really great price through ABE Books for a brand new copy of Penguin Planet by Kevin Schafer. Schafer also has a wonderful website. This is a shiny book of photographs pitched to readers from about 6th grade through adulthood. We do not read every word of this one. We look at every photograph and either read the captions or summarize them. My son can identify a chinstrap penguin (our new favorite), and other species including adélie, galapagos, king, emperor, and little blue. This book is beautiful and we learned a lot about penguins from it.
We also have some new favorite websites. As always with the internet, there is a whole world of stuff for the eager afficionado. We get a lot out of the Goleta Natural History Museum pages on penguins. This is a one-man operation, not a real museum! This fellow posted his good photos from a trip to Antarctica, but even better, his great sound files of penguin calls that he recorded! I think the gentoo penguin sounds like a Klaxon horn on a vintage automobile.
I have more--I'll do another post later. (It seems weird to say that after editing the post so many times. I am tired and kept forgetting things!)
I had no idea that National Geographic was about to release a new documentary about penguins! I found out about it from my weekly New Yorker. My son and I immediately found the official website for March of the Penguins, where we watched the trailer. We probably watched it twenty times. Morgan Freeman is the narrator, what could be more awesome!
Sad and hard things might happen in the world, oh and they certainly do, but my downy Emperor chick and I are going to the movies! (The photo below is from Guillaume Dargaud's site, not the movie. I puffy heart Guillaume Dargaud.)
I forgot to say this in my previous post. One thing I learned about penguins is that their egalitarian child-rearing methods have a lot in common with what my husband and I did in my son's first year. The penguin parents take turns going out to sea and fishing. Then they return and regurgitate the food for their offspring, and the other parent goes out to fish. Okay, we didn't regurgitate much in that first year, but I was working full time and my husband was working in the evenings. Like the penguins on Mrs. Silverman's site, we would nuzzle each other briefly, kibbitz about the way the other one fed the baby (!) and then say goodbye. I guess the bottles of expressed milk I brought home for my husband to use the next day weren't much like regurgitated krill.
Now of course we are both looking for work and our downy chick is a bit older. Who knows which animal parents we resemble now, and which we will resemble in the future? You could do worse than to parent like a penguin.
I have a problem with television. If there is one available, I will watch it. I used to have a great relief in Shabbat when I couldn't turn on the TV. In fact, this might have been one of the factors that led me to greater halachic observance. I fear that the computer and the seductive Internet has taken the place of television for me. It certainly has a special place in my son's life, ever since I made the mistake of showing him that we could find pictures and even video of anything we liked using the Google search engine.
First we looked for peachtrees and appletrees. Then I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting for him to see photographs of all the animals that appear in Where's Spot?" The first animal we looked for was the penguin. What I didn't realize is that penguins are incredibly fun to watch, beautiful and elegant but cute and funny at the same time. Whenever he sees my computer, my son says "More penguins!"
This is a perfect example about what's right with the Internet. When I was a child, I probably could have told you that penguins were black and white and waddled. Now I know that there are 17 species of penguin living all over the planet, all different sizes. What really surprised me is that they have song! We always saw silent photos or film of them. Plus, you think, it's snowy, it's cold, it's quiet. Now, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can see and hear a family of rare yellow-eyed penguins of New Zealand in photos and video taken by a teacher from New York. (I really want to write to her and thank her, it's such a moving thing to see.) A French photographer and adventure hiker has made available his incredible photographs and sound recordings taken at the South Pole of Adelie and Emperor penguins. There are also several sites with information for children about penguins: this one has a 12 image penguin slideshow with text, which is just the right length for my two year old, and this page has another similar one, with even briefer text.
My son has learned that a penguin baby is called a chick and that when they want to eat they peck at their mommy or daddy and the parent gives them food in their mouth. ("Chick" is not the easiest word for him to say, it comes out "shick!") He can say the words "waddle!" and "rookery!" I am getting him some penguinchildren'sbookswith actual photographs and not drawings, so that we can look at them together on Shabbat. I will let you know which ones I actually get and how they work out. With the long Shabbat afternoons in the summer, it may be a cooling and calming activity for us when we aren't on the swingset in our schul's backyard. I am kind of psyched that it's penguins for now and not trucks or dinosaurs...