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What Marshmallow-Roasting Penguins Can Teach Kids — And Grown-Ups — About The Climate Crisis

The front cover of the book "The Trouble With Penguins."
The front cover of the book "The Trouble With Penguins."
(Courtesy Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group)
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What Marshmallow-Roasting Penguins Can Teach Kids — And Grown-Ups — About The Climate Crisis

Seven years ago, Los Angeles artist and soon-to-be author Rebecca Jordan-Glum had an idea for a children’s book about penguins with a penchant for roasting marshmallows — and the unintended consequences that follow.

“I love the notion of a completely ridiculous approach to a very serious topic,” Jordan-Glum said. “They meet well, because if you try and talk about really serious things in really serious ways, people are not going to read that for fun.”

In the story, a small child in a cozy coat shares a few fireside marshmallows with a penguin who waddles off to promote the new snack to its pals.

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The sugar-pumped penguins soon start “fire, after fire, after fire, after fire, after fire, after fire, after fire” until their Antarctic home split apart.

The consequence of too many marshmallow-roasting fires.
(Courtesy Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group)

When Jordan-Glum shopped the early drafts around for feedback to publishers and her agent, “they said ‘Well, this is a great idea, but how does it end?...You can't just throw all these ideas out there and then leave the kids, like, dangling.”

She didn’t have a resolution.

“I think that's kind of the heart of the problem of storytelling about global warming...we're in the middle of it,” Jordan-Glum said. “No one person can solve it.”

She toyed with the invention of a giant refrigerated dome or an ice-sewing contraption, but it didn’t quite fit.

Jordan-Glum’s own frustration about the world’s stagnant response to climate change started to seep into the pages.

Author and illustrator Rebecca Jordan-Glum wears a light brown sweater.
LA author and illustrator Rebecca Jordan-Glum.
(Courtesy Rebecca Jordan-Glum)

One draft version concluded with the child yelling at the penguins until they burst into tears, lots of tears, which upon freezing repaired the ice. In her words, “a horrible, horrible solution.”

As she wrestled with the story, an increasingly large crack snaked across the surface of Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf, an early inspiration for the book’s setting. Fun (and terrifying) fact: an iceberg roughly the size of Los Angeles snapped off the shelf earlier this year.

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“I felt like, by the time this comes out, it's too late,” Jordan-Glum said. “These kids are going to be grown up and we will have ruined everything.”

Part of what shifted her mindset was a stint driving for a ride-share company in the last months of 2017 and early 2018.

“I was driving for Lyft to keep the dream alive,” she wrote on Facebook about the experience.

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She picked up more than 1,000 passengers in that time, she said, and said they ranged from billionaires to tourists and teenage besties.

“Not a single person was mean to me, and it just kind of, in a lot of ways, restored my faith in humanity,” Jordan-Glum said.

And it’s the goodwill of people — and penguins — that ultimately shines through in the final pages of "The Trouble With Penguins", which debuted in November 2020.

Without giving away the ending, let’s just say that cooperation between the marshmallow-loving birds ultimately saves the day.

“This book doesn't offer the solutions,” Jordan-Glum said. “It gives us hope that maybe we can find them ourselves.”