One of our world’s most bizarre and interesting species, it’s not surprising that penguins are actually quite a common choice of subject for illustrators. With flippers for wings, they move through the water with the effortless grace of a dolphin; on land and upright, they seem more human-like, albeit slow, clumsy and waddling. But at no point do they act like birds. 

Exotic, yet known universally, they can be cute and cuddly chicks, or tall, sinister emperors, fluffy and friendly or real slippery customers. There’s nothing sinister about Fluff and Billy, Nicola Killen’s playful penguin protagonists in this beautiful picturebook. Fluff and Billy are best friends, doing everything together. Sliding, swimming, and leaping around their antarctic paradise, they mirror each other’s every move, until Billy has the audacity to break the copycat paradigm, launching a snowball at an unsuspecting Fluff. Their mimetic relationship resumes, each declaring ‘I’m not talking to you’. It’s up to Fluff to be the bigger penguin and get their friendship back on track.

The call-and-response mimicry of Killen’s narrative makes this ideal for reading out loud with a child, who can either take the lead as Fluff or play the imitating  role of Billy.

The book’s charming plot of relationship, rupture and reconcilation is matched by its beautiful illustrations; Fluff and Billy are sleek and well defined in every instance, in contrast to the blue and yellow watercolour chaos they leave behind them splashed across the white pages – footprints and puddles of water. Killen’s typography is equally accomplished, using beautiful free-roaming watercolour lettering, which fades in and out as she tops up her brush, alongside the prtinted words of the narrator, bringing order to the otherwise cleverly chaotic picturebook.

Author Notes A graduate of the Children’s Book Illustration MA at Anglia Ruskin University, Nicola Killen has several titles to her name already, including Not Me, for which she was shortlisted for the Nottingham Children’s Book award, as well as Animal Numbers and Animal Colours a set of fun board books for learning.