Quick Pick: Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

by Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, STEM Read Creative Content Contributor

Flora and the Penguin, a wordless picture book with beautiful drawings by author and illustrator Molly Idle and published by Chronicle Books, invites discussion of the environment, adaptation, and collaboration. Idle’s detailed and cheerful drawings illuminate the pair’s journey through friendship.

As in Idle’s preceding book in this series, Flora and the Flamingo, a Caldecott Honor Book, Flora finds herself interacting with nature in a peculiar way: moving in tandem with a bird, weaving in and out of joy, with some conflict and a happy resolution.

One way to incorporate this book into your classroom is to think about Flora’s role: How does she end up hanging out with the penguin in the first place? Does she live at the South Pole? Is the penguin far from home? Is it all a crazy coincidence?

One activity you can draw out of this conversation is to talk about the setting of the story and the environment. Antarctica does not have much human or plant life because of its extreme weather and mountainous terrain, but there is a lot of marine life (birds, whales, seals). The penguin is very much at home, but how does Flora adapt to this environment? Imagine she’s a researcher – what possible differences might she see between Antarctica and her home?

With this eye toward environmental adaptation, give students the opportunity to be animal behaviorists! Have them create their own bird friend using toilet paper tubes, googley eyes, construction paper, markers, pom-poms, and pipe cleaners. Ask them to think about how animals have “outfits” that help them blend in, stand out, or survive in their habitats. How do animals move? Why do different birds, like the penguin, have different colored feathers? Why do Flora and the penguin “wear” the same colors? Why don’t all birds, including penguins, fly?

You can include a creative movement element to this assignment, too. Have students demonstrate how their bird moves and how, as in the book, their bird reflects them. How would the student and the bird work together through movement – walking, dancing, hopping? In the book, the two friends hit a bump when Flora doesn’t understand at first why the penguin stops skating in order to fish – Why is she upset? How does she misread the penguin’s custom of gifting a fish to a friend?

Flora and the Penguin can be used to introduce the scientific concepts of working together to adapt to new surroundings and new behaviors, something that many young students are learning for the first time.

Looking for more teaching idea sparks? Visit our STEM Read Lesson Plan Library.