“Kevin is wearing a penguin suit,” I said. “So I will wear a pug onesie.”
Auntie Joss did her laughing thing again. “Priceless!” she said. “Lauren, you are just priceless.”
I stared at her. Of course I was priceless. “Kids don’t have prices,” I said. Unless she’d been planning on selling me at the end of the wedding. My lizard brain started to take over again. Sparks started going off inside my head.
“Lauren, that’s just an expression,” Mom said. “Nobody is going to sell you.” My thinking brain took over from the lizard. Sometimes it felt like Mom could see inside my head.
Lauren is an eight-year-old girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and she sees the world in her own unique way. Penguin Days is a stand-alone book that also continues a story begun in Slug Days, with Lauren encountering challenges this time beyond school that help her stretch and grow. Not only must she attend her first-ever family wedding, but she is going to be a flower girl!
When her cousin Kevin, also in the wedding party, tells her he’s got to wear a penguin suit, Lauren imagines a solution to donning a scratchy dress: going in a onesie of her own! And she decides that a pug onesie would be ideal, since pugs are her favourite dog.
Along with the fun of misunderstandings, there is real bravery in this story about facing challenges and finding one’s way forward. Readers will root for Lauren as she applies her developing knowledge of brain differences, and they will cheer at her original contributions to the family festivities.
Sara Leach’s writing is finely crafted as well as highly readable for the intended age group—no small feat— and Lauren’s first-person voice is just as compelling as it was in Leach’s previous work. Ongoing mix-ups and dilemmas present themselves within a strong, plot-driven storyline, and, while the resolution is authentic and satisfying, readers will no doubt anticipate further books about this delightful character.
Adding to the hilarious escapades in the text are Rebecca Bender’s kid-friendly black-and-white illustrations. Penguin Days would make great independent-reading fare for classroom and school libraries as well as additions to units on identity and difference.
Bev Brenna is the author of many books for young people including her “Wild Orchid” trilogy dealing with a teen protagonist who has Asperger’s Syndrome. She is also a professor at the University of Saskatchewan where her research interests include literacy and children’s literature.