Thursday, November 13, 2014

Learning from Picture Books: One Cool Friend

This book has so many layers! It's fun to think about as a writer, from the perspective of character and plot, but it's also a good one to engage students and provoke discussion.

Here's the summary from in case you haven't read it yet: 

On a spontaneous visit to the aquarium, straight-laced and proper Elliot discovers his dream pet: a penguin. When he asks his father if he may have one (please and thank you), his father says yes. Elliot should have realized that Dad was probably thinking of a toy penguin, not a real one… Clever illustrations and a wild surprise ending make this sly, silly tale a kid-pleaser from start to finish.

One Cool Friend, written by Tony Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012

My Thoughts as a Writer:

Elliot’s quirky personality is clear right from the first page of this book. I love the line where he finds the penguins: “In their black feather tuxedos with their proper posture, they reminded Elliot of himself.”  The plot had surprising twists that kept me reading to find out what would happen next. And I thought Elliot’s relationship with his father was realistic and really helped create another interesting layer for the story. 

This is a good book to study to learn about story layers and plot twists. It’s fun to go back through the story and look at the clues in the illustrations that point towards the ending.

My Thoughts as a Teacher:

My students would enjoy the humor in this story and the idea of ‘fooling Dad’, which of course is proven out differently in the end. This book would be a fun one to read when talking about penguins, aquarium visits or habitats and how to care for a living creature. And it’s a great story to show how the writer and illustrator used their imaginations. 

A good activity for this book would be for students to think of an animal they’d like to take home from the zoo or aquarium and think about how their own environment would have to change to support the animal. Students could also investigate the explorers Magellan and Captain Cook, and look for places mentioned in the story on a map, e.g. Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands.

If you're looking for more great picture books to read to your class or to investigate as a writer, author Susanna Leonard Hill has a wonderful list of Perfect Picture Books.


  1. And it's beautiful to look at! David Small did a wonderful job!The Caldecott committee thought so too!

  2. Have seen this book, but have not read it. Like the quirky character and humor for kids. Need to get my hands on the book.

  3. It's been a while since we read this, but we enjoyed it.

  4. One cool book selection! And it might be a good conversation starter for why wild animals aren't good pets.

  5. H I agree with Wendy, it's a good conversation starter for that reason. It certainly has kid appeal and I loved the review, Thanks! (I thought I posted a comment already?)

  6. We love this book! It's a great book for the whole family -- there's definitely something in it for everyone. I like your suggestions for activities. When we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium last year -- the penguins were amazing to watch.


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