Guest Edition

Julie Abery–What Was on Her . . .

Julie Abery

Lovers of rhyme, rejoice! Our guest today is Julie Abery, a rhythm-maker and rhymer extraordinaire. Julie has six books to her name, with three more on the way. She has written board books about little animals, a biography about an Olympic swimmer, a nonfiction about a swimming team—and every single one of them is in verse.

Today Julie is visiting in celebration of yet another of her books in rhyme. The Old Man and the Penguin, which launched on October 6, is a nonfiction picture book about a heartwarming friendship between a retired bricklayer and a South American penguin.

The story opens in classic Abery style:

On his walk along the beach,

João hears a sorry screech.

He spies a penguin on the shore

Who blinks an eye . . . but nothing more.

From there, readers learn about the truly exceptional friendship between João and the penguin. For lovers of rhyme and lovers of animals, alike, this is an absolutely wonderful choice.

The Old Man and the Penguin, written by Julie Abery, illustrations by Pierre Pratt (Kids Can Press October 6, 2020)

Told in rhyming verse, this is the touching true story of an oil-soaked penguin, the man who rescues him and an unlikely friendship.

João hears “a sorry screech” as he walks along the shore near his home. It’s from a penguin, whose feathers are soaked in oil.

João takes the penguin home. He cleans him, feeds him and nurses him slowly back to health — and the pair develop a special bond. When the penguin is fully recovered, João knows it’s time to return him to the wild where he belongs. But the penguin has other ideas …

Before beginning her writing career, Julie taught preschool for many years at an international school in Switzerland. Originally from England, she has lived on the continental side of Europe for 31 years. Julie joins us today from the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland to give us a close-up view of her writer’s life and tell us What Was on Julie Abery’s . . .

List of Favorite Rhymes: My absolute favourite couplet in The Old Man and the Penguin is:

Fishy kisses, beak to nose.

Day by day, their friendship grows.

It is very simple rhyme, but I love the visuals ‘fishy’ and ‘beak to nose’ create, and for me it oozes warmth and friendship.

List of Most Challenging Rhymes: The most challenging rhymes are those which need to convey very precise thoughts. They need to be focused and flow seamlessly without using any superfluous words. Often words that are easy to rhyme don’t correctly support your narrative, and you have to be brutal and keep searching. Power builds when every word has strength and carries the story forward.

One particularly challenging rhyme was in Yusra Swims, which is illustrated by Sally Deng. Originally I had written Hometown siege/follow me /fleeing danger/refugee, but ‘follow me’ felt weak and just there for the rhyme, and ‘fleeing danger’ too obvious. I solved this by and writing:

Hometown siege,

People flee.

War-torn country,


Kitchen Counter: I have always loved to bake, and as a wedding gift I received a Salter Staffordshire set of scales with weights! The weights are in UK pounds and ounces, but they are well used and well loved! Bakewell tart anyone?

Reference Shelf: I have a few books on my reference shelf like The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry and The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein, but although these were key to me, I don’t tend to look at them that often anymore. I have an extensive collection of picture books and ebooks, both rhyming and prose which I read, analyze, and use as mentor texts. I follow the Reading for Research blog, whose goal is to “build reading background while learning how to use mentor texts.” And I always have a rhyming dictionary to hand, and open on my computer.

Window sill: My sweet Springer Spaniel, Tilly, sits on my window sill. We always sit on Tilly’s step first thing in the morning while the kettle boils! She’s done it right from a puppy! So cute!

Kitchen Table: There’s a stack of books on my table, which I bought after the SCBWI Summer Spectacular. They are my latest mentor texts. And the Papa Bear kind of chair next to them is a wonderful greenwood chair made by my talented hubby, Jim, from a piece of Wych Elm he cut down in a Herefordshire forest. It makes a great reading spot.

Thank you so much, Julie! The Reading for Research blog is inspiring. I didn’t know about it until you introduced me to it. What a great find! I also love your Salter Staffordshire scales and your greenwood chair. To my American eyes they exude quintessential Englishness. 

You can keep up to date with Julie Abery by visiting her at, on Twitter @juliedawnabery, on Facebook @julieabery, and on Instagram @juliedawnabery.

You can preorder The Old Man and the Penguin by Julie Abery and Pierre Pratt by clicking the books below:

USA & Canada


You can order any of the Little Animal Friends Series by Julie Abery and Suzie Mason by clicking the books below:



You can order Yusra Swims by Julie Abery and Sally Deng by clicking the book below:



If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit

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