A long time ago, on an island in the southernmost seas, a baby penguin hatched out green. His mother and father had died, and this left him all alone at a very young age. The mothers and fathers of the other penguins fed him scraps, but only at night, so that no one would see what they were doing. When the cold winds blew, they allowed him to huddle up against them to stay warm, but not one of them would cuddle him. Not one would even look at him. And, he had no friends.
All the other young penguins called him names, names like Kelp-head and Scum-face. The little green penguin did not like being called Kelp-head and Scum-face, so he learned to stay out in the water for a long time. The mean penguins often waited for him on the shore, just to make fun of him when he returned from swimming, but the little green penguin learned that if he stayed down a long time, the others would get tired of waiting for him and wander back up onto the island.
As time went by the little green penguin learned to dive deeper and deeper and deeper. But even though his deep diving kept the little green penguin away from the bullies, it did not gain him any friends, and so after a year diving alone, the little green penguin was so lonely, he decided to leave the island. Maybe he would find a new island where penguins liked green penguins, or perhaps he would find a whole island of green penguins.
The little green penguin waddled down to the shore. He jumped onto a piece of ice floating by. This chunk was too large. When the little green penguin paddled, he only splashed water. The chunk would not budge.
He jumped onto another piece, but this one was too small. When he paddled, the ice flipped and spilled him into the water. He came spitting and sputtering back out.
The little green penguin skipped from piece to piece. He tried thick pieces and thin pieces, wide ones and narrow ones, rough ones and smooth ones. He searched all day for just the right piece. He grew tired from trying to paddle the large pieces and from hauling himself out of the water when he was flipped by the little pieces. Exhausted, he stumbled back to shore.
He was so tired, he slipped and fell onto an old killer whale tooth. The tooth chipped a piece of ice that flew up and hit him in the eye. But the little green penguin did not wince. He picked up the tooth between his flippers and jabbed at the ice. Another ice chip flew off. “Aha!” he cried. “I’ll make the perfect piece of ice to float away on.”
The rest of the day, the little green penguin pried and poked and jabbed with his whale tooth and hammered and whacked and chipped. By the end of the day, he had carved the first penguin ice boat.
The next morning he shoved off without saying goodbye. He went slowly at first, pulling himself past bobbing ice chunks, pushing off the baby ice bergs. By midday he had zig-zagged through the drifting pieces and was floating toward the open ocean. Then, far across the glistening water, he saw a distant island.
“Land!” he cried. But no one answered him. He stood up and gripped his boat.
His joy soon turned to fear. The edge of his boat was melting. Since the ocean water was warmer out here, the sides of his boat were growing thinner and thinner and thinner. Sure, he could swim, but he was afraid the killer whales would get him in the open water. He had better turn back and build a bigger boat.
The little green penguin turned back and paddled the skiff with all his might. The ocean current was trying to carry him far out to sea. His boat kept melting, thinner and thinner. Soon, it was thin as glass, and he saw the dark shadows of the killer whales swimming right underneath him.
One of the big killer whales slapped her tail behind the boat. This made a wave that shot the boat forward. It shattered against an iceberg and spilled the little green penguin into the sea.
When he opened his eyes, there were four—no, five—killer whales circling around him. He dived downward as fast as he could: down, down, down, he went. And every time he looked back up, he saw the black silhouettes of the killer whales circling above him. He was terrified at first, but then he realized the killer whales couldn’t even see him. He was as green as the dark green water. Soon, their shapes became smaller and smaller, and the little green penguin realized he had never dived this deep before.
When he looked around, he saw he was at the very bottom of the ocean. And there, right on the ocean floor, he saw a large crack in the bottom of the ocean moving toward the penguin island. Why, a crack that big would split the island in half and spill all the penguins into the deep ocean. The killer whales would get them all.
The little green penguin pushed off the bottom with all his might. His life suddenly had new meaning. This was why he had been hatched green, this was why he had no parents, this was why the other penguins had rejected him, why he was lonely, why he had left the island, why his boat had crashed, why the killer whales couldn’t see him, why he had learned to dive so very deep—so he could discover the crack in the ocean and save the other penguins.
He burst from the ocean and landed, splat, on the shore. He stumbled and gasped and rushed to the penguin colony. He told the others the island would soon split in half. He pointed to the tall cliffs behind them and told them they all had to work together to make a ship. If they didn’t, they would all perish when the crack split the island.
He found another whale tooth and carved a model of the ship he thought they should build.
The penguins watched in amazement.
Some of the penguins laughed at him and waddled back to their nests.
Some of the penguins believed him and scoured the island for more killer whale teeth. The believing penguins hammered and chipped and cut at the ice, side-by-side with the little green penguin.
They carved two small boats so that scouts could watch for ice bergs, and they carved a ship big enough for fifty penguins.
When they reached the open ocean, they heard rumbling back toward the island. They turned and saw great cliffs of ice falling off the island and crashing into the sea. With each one, a wave came rushing and lifted the ship high into the sea before letting it down again.
Within minutes, the north half of the island was gone. All the penguins cheered, except for the little green penguin.
“Aren’t you happy?” a smaller penguin asked him.
The little green penguin remembered how dark and frightening the deep green waters had been. “I’m going back,” he said. “I have to save the others.”
“But they all laughed at you,” one penguin said.
It was no use. The little green penguin dropped into a scouting boat. Three more penguins joined him. Then four more jumped into another boat. Before long, they had saved all the penguins they could and safely returned them to the ship.
When the last of the survivors was pulled on board, all the penguins cheered the little green penguin.
And when they all arrived safely at the south end of the island, they threw a big party for the little green penguin. He had started his life without any friends, and now even his enemies were happily crowded around him; and, half of them were wearing green kelp and green scum, all over their heads and faces.