My first experience of the fabulous Fairy (little) penguin was at Philip Island in March 2006. I spent a wonderful evening down on the sand watching the penguins waddle out of the ocean and up the beach to their burrows amongst the sand dunes. To call it magical would be somewhat of an understatement. So, I was incredibly excited when The Accidental Penguin Hotel arrived at my door, a story about Fairy penguins and how they have had to find new homes due to overcrowding.
For years, the little penguins have come from their island home to the rich waters of the bay to hunt for the shoals of fish that provide a filling meal. At the end of the day and with bellies full, they carefully navigate their way through the Rip and the shipping channel to return to their burrows. The island is home but it is rapidly running out of space; younger males find it difficult to find a good nesting site and even harder to attract a female.
Everything changes one day when rocks are dropped into the bay to build a breakwater to protect the boats and the beach. Over time, sand fills the space around the rocks and plants begin to take root. It is the perfect place for a penguin to call home but will anyone be brave enough to move in…
Drawing on facts and his own imaginings, Yarra Riverkeeper Andrew Kelly tells a beautiful story of the creation of a new penguin colony in St Kilda. Animal lovers are in for a real treat in a read that is utterly delightful, will educate young minds and will have them wanting to find out more about these fabulous, ruler-sized animals.
The story zooms in on one brave little penguin who, in need of a place to nest, began his own burrow project and stayed behind on the rocks in the bay when his fellow penguins headed back to the island. He would soon be joined by a young female who, impressed by what she saw, decided to stay too and it wasn’t long before the ‘penguin hotel’ was the hottest new destination for young penguins to settle and call home.
The Fairy penguins are brought to the pages through wonderful illustrations by Dean Jones and I was in awe at some of his work. The penguin building his own burrow on the rocks looks purposeful. Animals and humans co-existing in the bay as kite-surfers race across the water and the penguins dash and dive for food below is important. And my absolute favourite…drizzled in twilight purples and pinks, two silhouetted penguins stand wing in wing, gazing out across the water towards Melbourne’s skyline - nature can thrive in big cities, we just need to give it a chance to.
I loved reading this story, firstly because it is about the most adorable penguins and secondly because it celebrates how human factors have had a positive impact on wildlife, so often we read sad stories where humans are responsible for destroying wildlife and their habitats. And whilst the penguins still have to deal with plenty of challenges, this is a story of hope and proves that animals and humans can co-exist. As Kelly writes, 'They can live with us.’ What we need to do is to allow them to, ‘Let us walk gently together,’
A double page spread at the end of the book includes a St Kilda penguin calendar showing what the penguins get up to throughout the year - if you’re in the vicinity then you can plan your visit to watch the penguins return to their burrows at sunset; I will definitely be doing this. Kelly’s detailed author’s note includes further information on the penguins.
With huge thanks to Wild Dog Books for this flippin’ awesome story.
Recommended for 4+.