The Emperor’s Egg

Antarctic Penguin's incredible journey: amazing nature or amazing mankind?

Bright humorous writing helps even young children understand the Emperor Penguin's extraordinary effort at laying and caring for a single egg, and then chick, through an Antarctic winter.

Full Review

Jenkins really does teach us about Emperor Penguins. To understand the ‘fun’, know that they must lay their single egg at the beginning of the Antarctic winter, many kilometers from the seaward edge of the ice. After laying, the female returns to the sea, and the male stands there, incubating the egg for two cold, dark Antarctic months!

When the chick hatches it is fed a milk substance from the male Emperor Penguin’s crop (pigeons and flamingos are the only other birds to do this):

The father can make only enough of the milky stuff to feed his chick for a couple of weeks. But, just as he’s about to run out, a dot appears on the horizon. It gets closer and closer, and yes! It’s Mom!

The Emperor’s Egg is informative, yet so engaging that readers of any age will love it.

Some penguin behaviors are explained in a way that raises questions. For example, how do the male penguins slide down steep slopes without losing their egg? We are not told that the penguins have an actual, upside-down pouch that folds quite firmly over the egg, as it sits on top of the penguin’s feet. These omissions are minor, and can readily be explained by parents.

The modern penchant for adding factual information as asides, though discreetly accomplished here, remains unnecessary. Such information can be artfully added into the normal flow of the text. Nonetheless, The Emperor’s Egg sets a high standard for communicating natural, interrelated facts to children.

For an astonishing, if overly reverent, video documentary on the Emperor Penguins VM recommends National Geographic’s March of the Penguins narrated by Morgan Freeman. “Overly reverent” because few wildlife documentaries so thoroughly document the brutal, rigid behavior patterns typical of most animals. The documentary shows Emperor Penguins as they mindlessly persist in their rituals, robot-like, aware of no options, suffering and dying, trapped in the Determinism of their innate genetic code.  Here is the film’s trailer:


In contrast to the genetic determinism of the penguins, the human mind frees men of that inflexible prison.  The Men making the March of the Penguins documentary have control over hundreds of pieces of equipment, all of which help them live and film in the most inhospitable conditions on Earth.   Yet it is these same men who speak reverently, if not worshipfully, of the Penguins and of Nature as exemplifying ‘superior’ qualities and ‘character’.  They might take a closer look at the minds behind the faces they see in the mirror.

The documentary is a great opportunity for a lesson in biology and in being Human.  Parents might start with The Emperor’s Egg and, when the child is older, use the documentary to introduce him to the distinction made in the two previous paragraphs.  Each child’s mind is the greater value.