The best nonfiction books about penguins for kids

Who am I?

I’m a penguin expert, TED speaker, and lifelong animal lover. After getting a BS degree in Animal Science, I became a Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium. For 9 years, I took care of the penguins there and educated visitors during daily talks. In 2000, I helped manage the rescue of 40,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa. (With the help of 12,500 volunteers, we saved most of them!) I founded my educational company The Penguin Lady in 2005, and speak at schools, universities, libraries, for TED-Ed and TEDx, and on National Geographic’s ships in Antarctica. I love sharing my knowledge, and passion for penguins with others!


I wrote...

All about Penguins: Discover Life on Land and in the Sea

By Dyan deNapoli,

Book cover of All about Penguins: Discover Life on Land and in the Sea

What is my book about?

All About Penguins is a beautifully illustrated book for young children about the basic biology and behavior of penguins. Fascinating facts about the penguin’s life cycle, how they swim, hunt, hide from predators, raise their chicks, and more are covered in concise, yet detailed and engaging text. The book includes a glossary, call-out boxes, range map, and a fun trivia section about each penguin species. (And it definitively answers the age-old question; “Do penguins have knees?”)

This book has been enthusiastically endorsed by renowned penguin expert and author Lloyd Spencer Davis, who said, “All About Penguins is so beautiful and so stuffed with facts that it resembles a krill-filled penguin.” Best for ages 4-8.

The books I picked & why

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The Emperor Lays an Egg

By Brenda Z. Guiberson, Joan Paley (illustrator),

Book cover of The Emperor Lays an Egg

Why this book?

This charming book gives a very comprehensive overview of the life and breeding cycle of the Emperor penguin. And it does so in simple - but entertaining - language, making the information very accessible for younger children. The large, graphic illustrations on each page are very eye-catching, and are sure to engage young children. (Even younger than the recommended age range for this book.) While this book talks about the many challenges that both parents face during the long breeding season, it focuses more on the male penguin’s job of incubating and protecting the egg while his mate is off at sea for two months. (The next book on this list focuses on the female penguin’s job during the breeding season.) Best for ages 4-8.


A Mother's Journey

By Sandra Markle, Alan Marks (illustrator),

Book cover of A Mother's Journey

Why this book?

This captivating book details the female Emperor penguin’s extraordinary journey during the long breeding season. In gorgeous prose - that includes detailed information very rarely found in other children’s books about this species - author Sandra Markle shares remarkable insights about the many challenges faced by the female Emperor penguin in preparation for raising her chick. This includes a long trek across sea-ice to the open ocean, where she hunts for two months to fill her belly with food for her soon-to-be-born chick. The beautiful illustrations help young readers visualize the many different aspects of her journey. I can guarantee that nearly every adult who reads this book with their children or students will also learn many details about Emperor penguins that they didn’t know before. Best for ages 4-8.


Penguins! Strange and Wonderful

By Laurence Pringle, Meryl Learnihan Henderson (illustrator),

Book cover of Penguins! Strange and Wonderful

Why this book?

This wonderful book is informative, very comprehensive, and visually stunning. It covers everything from the first recorded penguins, to their locations, their feeding and breeding behaviors, their predators, and the various threats to penguins - both historically and in the present. But this is in no way a dry, “just the facts, ma'am” book about penguins. The scientific information about penguin biology and behavior is told in a very engaging way, and it is enhanced by absolutely gorgeous and lifelike watercolor illustrations. This book provides a thorough, age-appropriate overview of the lives of penguins, and is one of my favorite books for both the content and the beautiful illustrations. Best for ages 7-10.


A Visual Introduction to Penguins

By Bernard Stonehouse, Martin Camm (illustrator),

Book cover of A Visual Introduction to Penguins

Why this book?

This beautiful book is written by a famous penguin expert who wrote the ‘bible’ about penguins for adults, so you can be absolutely certain that all of the information is 100% accurate! (Which, unfortunately, is not always the case for books written by individuals who aren’t penguin experts. That said, you can be assured that every book on this curated list has extremely accurate information about penguins!) Each species in this book has a page with fact sheets, geographical ranges, and biological details. There are also numerous photos and absolutely gorgeous illustrations that are highly detailed, bringing the author’s words to life in a visually engaging way. This is the perfect book for children who want to take a deeper dive into the lives of penguins. Best for ages 9-12.


The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins

By Sandra Markle,

Book cover of The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins

Why this book?

I’m sure I’m biased, but I love that this book picks up where my book with the same title (for adults) leaves off. I’m very pleased that the author has highlighted the important conservation story of the African penguin (an endangered species), and the efforts to save it, including the hand-raising of African penguin chicks. The author discusses in detail the many ways that humans have impacted this species - both negatively and positively. This is definitely a book for older children, as it talks about the various threats to penguins, which could be upsetting information for younger children. But, for older children wanting to understand how a species becomes endangered, and how humans can help save those animals, this is a highly informative book. Best for ages 9-12.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in penguins, Emperor penguins, and South Africa?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about penguins, Emperor penguins, and South Africa.

Penguins Explore 13 books about penguins
Emperor Penguins Explore 4 books about Emperor penguins
South Africa Explore 73 books about South Africa

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Penguins: Natural History and Conservation, Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins, and The Penguins: Spheniscidae (Bird Families of the World, No. 2) if you like this list.