Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 23, 2020

Book Giveaway – AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENQUIN by Alayne Kay Christian

Alayne Kay Christian has a new picture book, AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENQUIN, illustrated by Milanka Reardon and published by Blue Whale Press on August 1st. 

Alayne has agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Alayne and Milanka, especially at this stressful time when authors and illustrators need to promote their books completely online.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. Thanks!


“An Old Man and His Penguin holds a number of important messages about human/animal relationships, love, oil slicks and their impact on sea life, and loneliness. . . . its underlying focus on letting go and reaping rewards from non-possessiveness offers an outstanding lesson about love for the very young.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Off the coast of Brazil, João rescues a lifeless, oil-covered penguin (Dindim) and nurses him back to health. Dindim adopts João as an honorary penguin, and the steadfast friends do everything together. They swim together, fish together, and stroll the beach together. But there are real penguins somewhere across the sea. So one day, Dindim leaves João. The villagers tell João the penguin will never come back. João cannot say if he will or will not. Are the villagers right? Will Dindim ever patter into his old friend’s loving arms again?

“Adults looking for an inviting animal story with an important message will welcome this appealingly different seaside tale.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review


In spring of 2016, news articles and videos starting popping up everywhere about this very unusual love story: that of an old man (João) and a penguin (Dindim). Even though João first met Dindim in 2011, for some reason—at least to my knowledge—the story didn’t break until October of 2015 when the Wall Street Journal featured the odd pair. Here is a link to a short video  One couldn’t help but smile and sometimes get a little teary-eyed when viewing the videos. As a children’s writer who sees a picture book in almost everything, I knew this was a story I had to write. So, I spent a lot of time researching, which included asking my Brazilian friend, Sofia Flores, to translate a Globo TV documentary for me. Everyone in the documentary, including João, spoke Portuguese. Even though I had done my research, I shied away from writing nonfiction and decided to write the story as fiction based on a true story. After a critique partner suggested it, I even played around with having the human character, Joao, be a young boy instead of an old man. I thought, Wouldn’t that be more appealing to children and have a better chance with agents and publishers? After playing a bit, I couldn’t help but stick closer to the true story with the old man. I thought what kid, or adult for that matter, doesn’t love a cute little penguin. In my mind, Dindim is “the child” in the story. And really, to me, part of the heart of the true story is the old man. He is the hero.

Title’s Journey

After a year of researching and writing and rewriting . . . and rewriting . . . and rewriting, I decided it was time to share the story with my critique group. In addition to the whole fiction versus nonfiction thing, I did a lot of brainstorming for the title. Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea kept popping into my head. Still, I brainstormed and asked my critique partners for votes and suggestion for the title. By May of 2017, I had settled on my title.

Here is the title’s journey.

I bounced around the following titles:

Dindim and Joao Make an Odd Pair

An Odd Pair

Joao and Dindim

Young Penguin’s Old Man

But, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea kept gnawing at me. I added The Old Man and the Penguin to the list for my critique partners to vote on.

One critique partner said, “There are sooooo many penguin books out there. You need a title that tells that this is NF or based on a true story so that teachers will pick it up. It’s not just another penguin story.” She suggested two titles: Joao Finds a Penguin and My Penguin Son: How Joao Found a Penguin in Brazil.

This suggestion led me to adding the subtitle How Joao Pereira de Souza Became an Honorary Penguin.

Another critique partner suggested Old Man and Penguin, which led me to consider dropping the word “The” from the title.

In May of 2017, just before submitting the story to a couple of agents, I settled on Old Man and His Penguin: How Joao Pereira de Souza Became an Honorary Penguin, which was tweaked slightly with publication.

When the book was in production with Blue Whale Press, we decided it was important to have Dindim’s name in the title. We changed the subtitle to How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin. And Steve wanted to add the word “An.”

With An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, the title had completed its journey.


The word count for the manuscript I shared with my critique partners was 623 words. My critique partners offered a variety of suggestions. But they seemed to all be in agreement that the beginning needed work and the story was too wordy. They also all agreed that the prologue-ish first lines weren’t a good idea in a picture book. And one person said it kind of gave away the story. Some partners even suggested removing several paragraphs from the ending. I figured if so many people had similar opinions, there must have been something to what they think, so I went to work on the beginning and made some attempts to trim words throughout the story.

Following is the original beginning of the fiction based on nonfiction story.

Joao and Dindim made an odd pair—a retired bricklayer and a Magellanic penguin. But Joao loved Dindim and Dindim loved Joao. They were family.

* * *

One sunny morning in May, Joao strolled along the Brazilian shoreline, dodging waves for fun. His attention turned from the waves to a shiny black blob squirming on a mound of rocks. [Joao is 71 years old]

Joao hurried closer, and closer. And when he was close enough, it became clear that the black blob was a baby penguin. It was covered in oil and barely able to move.

Dindim squeaked and tucked his beak under his new friend’s arm as he carried him home.

Dindim struggled to stand. Joao smashed fish into a paste and handfed Dindim. He gave him water with an eyedropper. And when he seemed strong enough, it was time for a bubble bath.

Here is the beginning of the fiction based on nonfiction story after I took my critique partners’ suggestions into consideration.

One sunny morning in May, Joao strolled along the beach to his favorite fishing spot. Crashing waves bounced a shiny black blob atop a mound of rocks. The waves calmed. The blob squirmed.

Joao hurried closer. He squinted away the sun. It wasn’t a blob at all. It was a living, breathing penguin! But the poor little guy was covered in oil, barely able to move.

Joao stroked the lifeless bird with his knobby fingers.

Looking back, I’m not sure that it was that great of an improvement. But, another thing happened in my attempts to rewrite the story. Instead of cutting words, I added words! The story went from 623 words to 677. So, I went back to work.

Following is the beginning that the manuscript had by the time I started submitting to agents and editors.

Joao squinted at the shiny blob lying near shore.

Squeak, squeak. The blob cried and squirmed.

Joao stepped closer. It wasn’t a blob at all!

The tiny, oil-covered penguin squiggled and wiggled, trying to stand. But the oil was too slippery and heavy.

Joao cradled the dying penguin in his arms and carried him home. He named him Dindim.

This is better and simpler, but it also starts abruptly. However, even though I simplified the beginning, somehow the word count went from 677 words to 686 words. How was it that I kept going in the wrong direction with word count? Nevertheless, I started submitting the story along with a few other manuscripts.

In May of 2017, I found an agent who loved one of my stories, but no matter what else I sent her, she didn’t like them enough. And she wanted at least three stories to sign me. Another agent liked the same story and also wanted to see more. The story the two agents liked was written in free verse. The beauty of free verse is it is often lyrical with sparse writing, so I decided to try to get a little less wordy and a little more lyrical with An Old Man and his Penguin. I also decided to take the fiction out and make it nonfiction.

Following is the beginning I wrote for those agents.

A black blob bobbed on the beach.

The tarry figure shimmered and squirmed in flowing sea foam.

It squeaked. Joao squinted and moved closer.

A penguin!



Soaked with oil.

The penguin squiggled and wiggled.

It could not stand.

Joao cradled the dying penguin in his arms. He called him Dindim.

My new version dropped from 686 words to 580.

Things didn’t work out with either agent. That disappointment set me back for a few months, and then I cautiously got back on the horse. In the fall of 2017, I sent the story to one publisher and one agent. Ouch! Crickets.

In February of 2018, I sent it out to three agents and one publisher. The lack of response at this point discouraged me enough to put the story aside, but it wouldn’t leave my heart or my creative spirit. Still, I did nothing with it until August 2019. At that time, I was feeling really happy with the books Blue Whale Press was publishing. And I thought An Old Man and His Penguin would be a good fit. So, I took the risk and gave it to our publisher (and my husband) Steve Kemp. He was very touched by the story and decided it would be a perfect add to the Blue Whale Press list.

I loved the art Milanka Reardon had done for Blue Whale Press’s picture book Who Will? Will You? by Sarah Hoppe, so I asked her if she would be interested in illustrating one of my books. I was thrilled when she said, “yes.” Yay! An Old Man and His Penguin was going to be illustrated by Milanka Reardon. Not only is Milanka a talented artist, she is such a wonderful person who I consider a friend. And what a professional. The design and development process goes so smoothly when working with her.

When Milanka submitted the storyboard, I said to myself, “I wrote this?” Having her art help tell my story helped me see my writing in a whole new light. And that cover! Who wouldn’t love that cover? I was amazed when Milanka made João a true honorary penguin in his shadow on the rocks. Milanka also surprised me with a drawing of me dreaming about writing this touching story. That drawing is spotlighted on the Author’s Note page of the book.

And now the book is here. It traveled all the way from the fall of 2015, when I first heard about this story, to the spring of 2020 where the idea and dream are a reality.

As for the beginning, we tweaked it one last time.

Here is the beginning that is in the published book.

On an island off the coast of Brazil, a black blob bobbed on the beach. The tarry figure shimmered and squirmed in flowing sea foam. It squeaked. João squinted and moved closer.



Soaked with oil.

The penguin squiggled and wiggled. It could not stand.

Thank you so much, Kathy for sharing my book’s journey with your blog readers.


Alayne Kay Christian is the acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author. She is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. Her published works include Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series and the picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa. The second Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy book, Cowboy Trouble, will be released summer of 2020. Her third picture book The Weed That Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Story of the Toledo Christmas Weed will be available late summer 2020. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing shares her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart. Learn more about Alayne, her work, and her services at You can learn more about Blue Whale Press and their books at


Milanka Reardon is a children’s book illustrator and portrait artist who lives in Massachusetts. Her love of art began at the age of six, when she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Since no one in her school spoke her language, her teachers sketched images of the English words they were using to communicate with her. Instead of copying the words, Milanka spent most of her time trying to draw more interesting pictures. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design, earning certificates in children’s book illustration and natural science illustration and she was a recipient the R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. Milanka is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You can see some of her artwork at


My journey in illustrating An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made Joao Pereira De Souza an Honorary Penguin started a while back. In 2015, I read in the Wall Street Journal about a penguin washing up on the shore of an island off the coast of Brazil and an old man who rescued him. I was fascinated with the story about a little penguin that returned to the old man year after year.

I love drawing penguins; at the time, I had just finished illustrating my first children’s book, Noodles and Albie’s Birthday Surprise by Eric Bennet, which, interestingly, featured a penguin! And soon after that, I illustrated the picture book, Who Will? Will You? by Sarah Hoppe, for Blue Whale Press. I clipped the Wall Street Journal article and saved it, thinking that it would make a great children’s book story for me to illustrate one day. So you can imagine how delighted I was when Alayne Kay Christian, the editor at Blue Whale Press, asked me to illustrate one of her books… about Dindim! I was excited to dive into illustrating another penguin story, especially one with so much heart.

I spent a lot of time researching this story. I suggested to Alayne that it would be fun to visit the location where Dindim lived with Joao on Provetá Beach in Ilha Grande, Brazil… but since that wasn’t a possibility, I did some research online and found that Dindim is a Magellanic penguin. That type of penguin has special markings: two black bands that run across their white bellies and white feathers around each eye, forming a strap around their neck. I had a lot of fun getting the details right as I sketched Magellanic penguins in motion: waddling, walking, swimming, and jumping.

But while it was lots of fun drawing penguins, it was a little more challenging drawing Joao. I wanted him to truly become an honorary penguin. That is why in the book cover I tried to in a subtle way show that he was a penguin at heart. I made him lean closely and lovingly into his friend, Dindim, in such a way that their shadows both appear as penguins. I also wanted Joao to be fun and quirky, so coming up with an expressive face was important.

Illustrating Joao required more than an expressive and friendly face, however. I had to make sure that I got the anatomy correct while Joao interacted with Dindim throughout the book. That was challenging, especially in parts of the story where I wanted his welcoming arms to be big and exaggerated but also feel real. So I recruited my husband to help me out. He’s not an artist, but he is a good sport, and he posed for a couple of the images. And that really helped a lot, especially in getting the perspective and the foreshortening right in the scene with the welcoming arms.

This was truly a fun book to illustrate. I even added my little two-year-old granddaughter in the background in one of the scenes. And I also took a shot at drawing Alayne on the back matter page! She was wonderful to work with on this project, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to illustrate this book.

Thank you, Alayne for sharing your book and journey with us. That little penguin is so cute and the animal lovers in us can rejoice in being able to save a innocent animal and understand their love together. Good luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. What a book-publishing journey! I loved reading the ups and downs and success of your hard work. Congratulations! Can’t wait to read this one. 🙂

    I will tweet this and I follow by email.


  2. What a beautiful story -so full of love! Congrats!


  3. So enjoyed this, and what a gem! Congratulations, Alayne and Milanka.


  4. What a great post! Thank you both for taking us through your journey. I cannot wait to read this book!


  5. Congrats, Alayne! This book looks like it’s full of heart.


    • Thank you, Susan. Heart is what Milanka and I were going for. Glad you sense that.


  6. Fascinating research and I love the art!


  7. What a journey! So interesting to see the course your book took. Even though, I’m pre-published, I related to it so much. Sounds like an amazing story and I can’t wait to read it!


  8. Loved reading this book’s path to publishing! I also tweeted this.


  9. Gotta love the story behind the story. Not that I don’t love the story itself too. So nice to hear of all your struggles and hardships. 🙂 Followed by victory. Three cheers, Alayne!


  10. Thank you for sharing the whole process! Congrats on this book. It looks lovely!


    • It was our pleasure to share. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Marci.


  11. What a great journey story and what a fun book. Thanks for the post.


  12. So glad you didn’t give up on that one. You’ve got a real winner on your hands there! I love animal stories.


    • Thank you for your never-ending support, Sherri. I was very touched by the card that you sent me after my surgery.


  13. Congrats folks! I really loved how you gracious shared of your journey to publishing and seeing your patience with rejection. It gives me courage to not give up. And taking a story about such a timely matter from a real incident is awesome. Lovely tale! Plus, Milanka’s penguin is so charming and lively, and I especially love the illustration with the tiny fish swimming towards the penguin. The light filtering in is magical! Thanks for sharing. My grand daughters hope I win!


  14. This looks like a fun book – I can’t wait to read it!


  15. Congratulations, Alayne! Looking forward to seeing the final copy!


  16. What a heartwarming story! The illustrations are charming and speak to the heart. I would love to share it with the children in my life.


  17. Beautiful artwork positive DOT ideas DOT 4you AT gmail DOT com


  18. A big THANK YOU to Kathy Temean for putting this all together. You are the best.


  19. […] ALAYNE: Vivian asked me if I would like to share how I juggle being an editor and an author. Thank you for inviting me to Will Write for Cookies, Vivian. I am so excited about An Old Man and His Penguin. It’s been a long journey and a labor of love to bring this sweet story to the world in a picture book. For those who might be interested, here is a link to a post on Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog where illustrator Milanka Reardon and I share our book journey.… […]


  20. Alayna, thank you so much for sharing your journey to getting this beautiful book published.


  21. Alayne, what a wonderful, heartfelt story. I perked up as soon as I saw the name, Joao, recognizing it as a Portuguese name because my son and family lived in East Timor and his wife’s uncle had that name which I could never pronounce!


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