Pangolin’s Lament: A Review of I Am Not A Penguin

I Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament
Written and illustrated by Liz Wong
Published by Alfred. A. Knopf
Available January 19, 2021
Ages 3-7

A mammal covered in scales introduces himself with, “You may not have met someone like me before. I’m a pangolin,” before beginning his presentation on pangolins to animals unfamiliar with the species. His presentation is soon interrupted by a pig and a giraffe, excited that the presentation may be on penguins (it is not on penguins). As the pangolin continues with his presentation, more animals join the audience. These new audience members, however, focus on more familiar animals that the pangolin’s traits remind them of, like a frog or an anteater. The more traits the pangolin describes, such as claws or a long tongue, the more the animals get confused. When a final hippo shows up, hoping for a penguin, the pangolin shouts that he is not a penguin, or any other animal, and that there are no penguins there at all. Soon though, a penguin crashes the party with a surfboard. The animals squeal with delight and follow the penguin, leaving the pangolin and his presentation. There is one last audience member, a child, who is interested in pangolins. Liz Wong’s playful dive into the curious pangolins is much more than an informational picture book. Wong’s soft and gentle illustrations allow the variety of animals and their reactions to take center stage. Saturated pastel colors pop against the neutral pages, while speech balloons populate the pages as activity increases. Wong takes advantage of page turns and dialogue bubbles to create a pleasing tension as the pangolin’s presentation goes off the rails. After the animals race off to join the hip, shades-sporting penguin, the imagery is apt: the pangolin is curled into a ball for protection following the stampede. Wong’s dialogue is a gift, conversational and hilarious, each animal having its penchant, sometimes for exasperation, like the giraffe, or total fanning out, like the pig. Wong’s picture book ends similarly to how it began, honoring its running gag of animal-association: “What kind of animal are you?” asks the pangolin. “I’m just a kid,” the child replies. The pangolins response is sweet and well timed: “Huh. Like a goat?” The picture book contains informational back matter on the pangolin, written up like pages of a school report.