cover image My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal

My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal

Sophie Webb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-395-92291-0

Invited to Antarctica in 1996 to study Ad lie penguins, biologist and artist Webb (illustrator for A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America) returned with the makings of this intriguing if sometimes verbose journal. Peppered with piquant watercolor, gouache and graphite illustrations, the diary entries track her two-month stay in what is at times excessive detail, beginning with the account of the five-day journey from San Francisco to the U.S. base, McMurdo, on Ross Island. The incidental facts are often the most amusing: the travelers find sleep difficult due to the 24-hour daylight, they trek past Ernest Shackleton's still-intact 1908 expedition hut, and the artist discusses the difficulties of subzero weather (if a little alcohol isn't added to the paint, it turns to slush on paper). And of course once she gets to the penguins themselves, readers will be swept up in colorful and enthusiastic descriptions of their habitat, habits and antics, amplified by a generous sprinkling of artwork. Fully rendered vignettes of her subjects during an ""ecstatic display"" (a mating ritual), for instance, possess the deceptive ease of notebook sketches, while panoramic views, such as that from the camp down into the penguin colony, have the accomplished feel of landscape paintings. Overall, she delivers a compelling glimpse of life in a field camp, complete with lyrical descriptions (""Three Snow Petrels fly by, tracing the cliff edge in graceful arcs, brilliant white against the dark rocks and water"") and gritty realism (""I forgot how much I hate going outside to pee when it's cold and windy""). Ages 10-up. (Sept.)