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Penguin and the Cupcake
by Ashley Spires
AGES: 4 to 8
SIZE: 8 x 9
PRICES: US $15.95, Cnd $16.95
HARDCOVER: 978-1-897476-04-8

National Reading Campaign

Warning: Reading Penguin and the Cupcake will stimulate much laughter and a craving for pink cupcakes!

This witty picture book was originally published in 2008 and has now been reprinted. The multi-talented Ashley Spires (author, illustrator, wardrobe blogger and finger-puppet creator) chronicles the adventures of three of her puppets: Penguin, Walrus and Polar Bear. Like her popular graphic-novel series Binky and the Space CatPenguin and the Cupcake features the artist’s trademark cheeky sense of humour.

It is also liberally sprinkled with the easy-to-swallow crumbs of an ecological message as all three puppets live in Polar Regions threatened by climate change, shrinking habitats, and air pollution. Through clever asides in the form of notes on ruled paper scattered through the text, we pick up pertinent facts, such as what these creatures really eat when pink cupcakes aren’t available.

Penguin’s slap-happy tale of how he left his home in the Antarctic to search for the elusive baked goods is punctuated by disgruntled comments from Walrus and Polar Bear, who resent him getting all the attention. They poke their heads into the pictures to correct his wilder flights of fancy (“But Penguins can’t fly!”) and grumble their way to the end the book (“That’s it? We only had a few lines!”).

With expressive characters, bright colours, and playful text that changes size and shade according to context, this book is pure fun from beginning to end.


Kirkus Review
Sticklers shouldn't get distressed when they see Penguin and Polar Bear and Walrus on the book jacket; they'll learn inside how animals who live so far apart can be in the same story. Penguin, tired of fish, has heard from a friend that the Northern Hemisphere has wonderful foods, such as cupcakes. So Penguin flies (in a plane) a little too far north. "SNOW!?! It couldn't be!" First he meets Walrus, who is on a kelp diet and doesn't eat cupcakes. Polar Bear doesn't eat cupcakes either, but he does eat meaty things like birds. Penguin decides it's time to go home, and on the plane he sits next to a very nice lady who happens to have a box of cupcakes! Spires's funny, flightless creation is a direct descendant of Willems' Pigeon in his direct address to the reader and desire to manipulate the truth. Several pages have sequential panels as well as jokey editorial notes on "notebook paper." The watercolor animals are based on Spires's finger-puppet line but have a laugh-out-loud charm all their



Publisher's Weekly

Inspired by the felt animal finger puppets Spires creates, this illustrator’s (The Red Shoes) quirky authorial debut tells of an Antarctic resident who wearies of his fish diet. Tempted by news that creatures in the northern hemisphere lead “the good life eating cupcakes,” Penguin sets out to sample this treat. But when he flies off under his own power, Walrus and Polar Bear pop out from behind the page (“Stop right there!”) and inform the bird that penguins can’t fly. The story resumes, with an airplane transporting Penguin to the Arctic; there he again encounters Walrus and Polar Bear—but no cupcakes (he finally gets some on the flight home). If not especially memorable, Spires’s slightly wooden cartoon characters have personality. Adults and kids alike should be amused by the meta-narratives, as well as sidebar notes that “correct” the characters’ occasional misinformation (after Walrus claims to be on a “strict kelp” diet: “Walruses don’t eat kelp.... Unfortunately this walrus has self-esteem issues. She was trying to meet an unrealistic physical ideal”). A humorous story, but like the confection Penguin craves, light in substance.


Resource Links

Penguin and the Cupcake is a straightforward tale whose charm lies in the telling. The reader is enticed into this book through an introduction asking how the main characters – a penguin, a walrus and a polar bear – are in a story together, since they clearly do not live in the same place on earth. Penguin then narrates the story of his quest for cupcakes. Acting on a tip from a friend he flies off the northern Hemisphere where he meets a walrus and a polar bear, neither of whom eat cupcakes. Foiled in his attempt to seek out cupcakes, Penguin resigns himself to take a return flight home to the south Pole. Finally, Penguin achieves his goal through an act of kindness by a stranger.

While the story itself is fairly simple, Polar Bear and Walrus add humour throughout the story by interrupting the narrative at various places in the book, including the back cover. This effective technique adds interest to the story. Audiences of all ages will appreciate the snide remarks by these characters.

This book is best suited for supporting recreational reading either individually or as a read aloud. The story is extended through the use of informational notes interspersed throughout the pages. These notes not only add a more serious level to the book, but also extend its value to a wider age range. The book could be used to support Science and Language Arts. Penguin and the Cupcake is appropriate for both school and public collections.

 Thematic Links: Penguins; Polar Animals; Polar Environments; Humour. 



CM Magazine

 The characters, themselves, are based on the author's line of handmade felted finger puppets. Like the felted originals, the characters in the book have a cute but spare aesthetic that is fresh, contemporary and appealing. This combination of simplicity and visual sophistication is part of what marks Ashley Spires as a talented illustrator. 

     Visually, this is an appealing book. The cover alone will have this book flying off the shelf. The layout uses a variety of techniques, ranging from full two-page spreads to comic strip frames. The text is clear and easy to read, with oversized font for emphasis and different colours for each speaker. The characters shine through — the wilful cupcake-craving penguin, and the grumbling duo (walrus and polar bear) who keep interrupting penguin’s story to make sure we know how it really happened. Reminiscent of recent picture book characters like Melanie Watt’s Chester, the characters take a self-conscious approach to narration, correcting facts, negotiating narrative, and vying for centre stage.

     Most of the humour I love in this book is visual. It's hard not to fall for Penguin as he stands with arms folded across his chest, decked out in aviator cap and goggles, pouting as walrus and polar jump in to mention that penguins can't actually fly. And the dialogue supports the strong characterizations of our three main stars. 


WOW! We just received The Penguin and the Cupcake from Amazon, and it's already our new favorite. I could tell by the cover that I would love the illustrations, and since my daughter (5) is obsessed with all things cupcake, I decided to give this book a try. I was hoping my daughter would love it, which she did, but I was not expecting to love it so much myself! We were both giggling the whole way through. The story is told in a very unique style, and the comments made by the characters are so funny. I also loved that there are several boxes of text with educational info about the environment. In reading the book a second time, I realize that the whole thing is very educational, but I didn't realize it the first time through because it was just so fun. The characters are darling, and all of the illustrations are so well done.....which includes the cupcake! You will be craving them by the end of this book, as I am now, LOL! I plan to share this book with my daughter's class, and pairing it with a gourmet cupcake (in a bakery box of course!) for birthday parties. I look forward to more publications by Ashley Spires! - C. Duwelius



Cupcakes and palm trees – that’s not too much for a girl or penguin to ask for.

We’ve discovered a new and feisty hero in Vancouver author and illustrator Ashley Spires’ latest book, Penguin and the Cupcake. This friendly, fish-eating creature has had it with his mundane menu and craves something just a little bit different: Something soft, something sweet, something covered in smooth pink icing (we can so relate to this cakey craving).

We all know that cupcakes can’t be found in Antarctica, but Penguin’s heard that the Northern Hemisphere is a veritable paradise of palm trees and cupcakes (we checked, Sandals does not have an all-inclusive here). Unfortunately, Penguin can’t fly and instead tells a tale of a jet-setting penguin on a pole-to-pole cupcake quest – full of friends, reality-checks, learning and fun.

Vibrant art and a graphic novel style make this book a great addition to our collection (move over Winnie and Dora). Best of all, each character was inspired by the author’s own collection of felted finger puppets (now that’s what we call hands-on). And because we are so crafty, we can check out her website, to make our own.

Just remove your new finger friends before eating any cupcakes. -


"A fun book! The story is great. I like the intrusivecharacters (Walrus & Polar Bear) and the editorial notes that address environmental problems. The illustrations suit the story. I was glad to see the use of purple (Walrus) in the story." - What Is Bridget Reading