The Accidental Penguin Hotel
Dean A. Jones
Wild Dog, 2021
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
For generations the little penguins have left their island home to hunt for the shoals of small fish in the rich waters of the bay and the mouth of the river. And when they have had their fill they risk their lives navigating the rip and the shipping to go back to their burrows on their island home. The island has all they need to build their burrows but it is getting crowded and the young males are finding it tricky to find a place that is safe and that will attract a young female. But there is nowhere suitable to build a burrow on the bay.
And then changes start to happen to their feeding grounds – huge machinery is dumping rocks into the sea to build a breakwater to protect the boats and the beach, and over time the sand and silt build up in the cracks and crevices. Sometimes the penguins rest on the rocks but they always return home. Until one day, one little penguin decides to stay…
Much is written about the impact on wildlife when humans change the landscape and it’s usually negative so to read a positive story is unusual. For this is the story of how the penguin colony at St Kilda, Victoria emerged and is continuing to grow. While they still have to deal with the hazards of dogs, cats, ferrets, stoats, human vandals, plastic pollution, boat strikes, boat propellers, oil spills, the fragmentation and loss of habitat and climate change, nevertheless because of the conservation practices in place they have shown that it is possible for native wildlife to live side by side with humans. Using just one little penguin as its focus personalises the story and brings it into the realm of the young reader, so they are more able to relate to it and understand the situation.
Told by the Yarra Riverkeeper and beautifully illustrated this is an uplifting story that shows that the relationship between humans and the natural world can be a positive one, as well as demonstrating how that world adapts to deal with issues such as overcrowding. But charming as it is as a standalone story, it is one that has enormous potential to be a springboard into further investigations both of the penguins (with comprehensive teachers’ notes) and then human impact generally. If you “can’t stop progress” how can it be managed through environmental impact studies, local support groups and so forth? Is there a development happening in the readers’ community that might be having a wider impact than is immediately visible? The opportunity to “act locally, think globally” is very apparent and this book can fulfil the purpose of the author. “Let us walk gently together.”