A Mother's Journey book cover image

A Mother's Journey

  • 1695

By: Sandra Markle / Illustrated by: Alan Marks

She too has a job to do.

Acclaimed nonfiction author Sandra Markle presents the daring story of a mother emperor penguin's struggle to reach the sea, find food, avoid predators, and make her way back to her mate and their newborn chick before they starve. Alan Marks' luminous illustrations highlight the harsh conditions and stunning landscapes of Antarctica.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Sandra Markle, author

Sandra Markle is the author of more than 200 nonfiction books on science topics for children and her books have won over 30 awards, including the NSTA and CBC's list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, the International Reading Association's Young Adults Choice Award, the Society of School Librarians International Book Award for Language Arts K-6, the Parent's Guide to Children's Media Nonfiction Award, The Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year Award, and Nick Jr. magazine's Best Books of the Year Award. Markle has been named Georgia Author of the Year five times and was honored as one of 1999's Women of the Year by Women in Technology International for her contributions to science and technology.

Read more about Sandra.

Alan Marks, illustrator

Alan Marks began his career illustrating for magazines and newspapers in England. His first children's book Storm, written by Kevin Crossley Holland, won the Carnegie Medal. Alan now illustrates a wide variety of subjects, from nursery rhymes to war poetry.

Read more about Alan.

Awards & Honors:

  • NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
  • CCBC Choices
  • John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers
  • KIND Children's Honor Book
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • ABC Best books for Children

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

Accounts of how male Emperor penguins stand still for weeks to incubate their eggs while the females go off after food are easy to find on library shelves, but it's the male who usually gets most of the attention. Here, Markle follows a female from the nursery, over 50 miles of rugged Antarctic ice to open water and then deep into the sea, braving leopard seals and other dangers in a sustained effort to stockpile nourishment for the hungry chick that will, if all has gone well, be waiting on her return. marks illustrates the journey with big moonlit, watercolor-on-wet paper scenes that really bring out both the beauty and the harshness of the Antarctic winter; Markle describes the trek in simple, non-anthropomorphic language, then closes with additional facts, and leads to more. Sentimental title aside, this is sure to keep young nature lovers rapt, and carries added value for its unusual focus.

The Horn Book

Markle's simple account follows a first-time mother emperor penguin as she leaves her newly laid egg in the care of her mate and joins a band of females traveling across the ice for many weeks of feeding before they make the return trip to feed and care for their offspring. The short chunks of text have the look of poetry and are both economical and richly descriptive, drawing on Markle's own first-hand observations in Antarctica: "Day after day—five days in all—/ the young female/ and the other emperors plod and scoot/ across the sea ice. / Then, finally, they reach the pack ice, / a patchwork quilt of milk-white chunks / stitched together by seams of blue-black water." Beautiful watercolor scenes spread across the pages to follow the penguins on their journey. Two enemies--a stinging, swirling snowstorm and a hungry leopard seal--demonstrate the dangers of the long trek, which finally brings the mothers, stomachs swollen with their horde of krill and fish, back to the nesting ground and their newly hatched chicks. While often recounted in children's books, the emperor penguin's life cycle is fresh and compelling in this exquisitely crafted view of the mother's arduous trek. The book concludes with an author's note, a reading list of children's books and list of websites.


With evocative watercolor-and-ink images, this beautiful picture-book tribute to female emperor penguins plunges children into the harsh icy landscape and frigid waters of Antarctica, home of the penguins. The understated, lyrical text follows a young mother penguin as she lays her first egg and then, leaving her mate to tend to it, joins the other females as they travel for five days to reach the pack ice and food. Once there, she swims day after day, swallowing her fill of fish and watching for dangerous seals and hunters. In all, she travels 930 miles on a zigzag course until the beginning of August, when instinct tells her it's time to return to her mate and the egg's hatching. A familiar author of nonfiction science series books presents facts in a different way in this excellent nature narrative, which is respectful, unsentimental, and rich in detail. Marks's softly colored art is a perfect compliment. A page of back matter provides additional information, including a bibliography, a list of Web sites, and an author's note about her Antarctic explorations.

School Library Journal

A simple, lyrical text follows the fortunes of an Emperor penguin from laying her first egg through her epic journey to open sea seeking food and culminating in her timely return with a belly full to regurgitate for her newly hatched chick. The whole is perfectly accompanied by Marks's luminous blue-toned watercolors, emphasizing the vast distances, the harsh weather, and the dangers lurking in the sea off the ice shelf of Antarctica. The book is similar in scope to Brenda Z. Guiberson's handsome The Emperor Lays an Egg (Holt, 2001), which focuses on the chick, and Martin Jenkins's simpler, attractive The Emperor's Egg (Candlewick, 1999), which highlights the male's long vigil. Team Markle's book with either (or both) of the above, and toss Judy Sierra's rollicking Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems (Harcourt, 1998) into the mix for a nifty unit on Emperor penguins.

NSTA Recommends

A Mother’s Journey is a beautifully illustrated and written book about the unusual roles of the emperor penguin. This book is full of scientific information about this animal’s habits and habitats but is written in a very easy-to-read narrative fashion that will make it appealing as a read aloud as well as an independent favorite. Whether or not students have seen the popular documentary on emperor penguins in video format, this book will be a popular addition to your classroom literature.

Library Media Connection

The awesome yet dangerous journey of an emperor penguin's quest for food is beautifully told by Sandra Markle, a highly respected non fiction writer with 80 books and more than 30 awards to her credit. In Antarctica, a female emperor penguin lays her very first egg under a gorgeous setting sun in mid May. The male's job is to dutifully protect the egg through the ferocious winter while the mother journeys 50 miles in search of food. The journey is fraught with danger including attacks from lurking predators. In all she will have zigzagged more than 930 miles to gather food in her belly before she returns to her newly hatched chick in August. She will feed the chick and take over the responsibilities of parenting, and the father will begin his journey. The watercolor and ink illustrations transport the reader to the harsh yet stunning Antarctica landscape. Included at the end of the story is a brief fact list about emperor penguins. Markle also recommends five additional books and three excellent Web sites. This book is a great read-aloud for younger children. It serves as a springboard into deeper discussions and research about this amazing animal that exhibits courage, love, and loyalty. It would also make a good companion with last year's movie March of the Penguins.


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ISBN: 978-1-57091-621-2
ISBN: 978-1-57091-622-9

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-068-3
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 4-8
Page count: 32
8 1/2 x 11

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