Penguin Dreams and Classroom Realities: The Story of Jennifer de Oliveira's Literary Adventure!

Rich Boschetti, DPIE Academy Director
December 18, 2023

For the last 7 years the Dublin Elementary School community has known Jennifer de Oliveira as a warm and friendly 2nd grade teacher who had a passion for teaching and a love of drawing. But last Spring, they learned that she is a living example of dreams can come true - now a writer, a cartoonist, and a published author. Her journey to publication is a story of perseverance, fueled by a lifelong passion for teaching, cartooning and storytelling.

Although many in the Dublin community knew that Jennifer taught a “Fun With Drawing” class during after school hours as part of the DPIE After School Enrichment Program, very few of them realized she possessed a burning passion to create and publish her own comic-novel story book. But the dream turned to reality last spring when Little Brown & Company published her first book, Reggie: Kid Penguin.

In a recent interview with DPIE, Jennifer shared her journey explaining that as a child, she was captivated by Disney and Peanuts cartoons. But it was a behind-the-scenes tv documentary that provided her a glimpse into the world of animated movies that ignited her dream to become a cartoonist.

“Watching that documentary was the first time I realized that real people create cartoons and that’s when I decided that being a cartoonist is what I wanted to do when I grew up,”

Art Teachers Help Pave Her Path

From elementary school to high school, Jennifer was fortunate to have art instructors who nurtured her talent. In fact, it was her high school art teacher who encouraged her to pursue her passion for art at San Jose State University, where she majored in Animation & Illustration.

“San Jose State was a perfect fit for me. They have a strong animation & Illustration program and it’s where I met likeminded, hardworking artists who all loved cartoons as much as I did. Some of them were huge comics fans and they introduced me to all kinds to comic storytelling which inspired me to draw my own comics.”

Post-college life Jennifer started her working career as a substitute teacher before eventually taking on a role as a production assistant at Industrial Light & Magic, the iconic company behind Star Wars. While this might seem like a dream job for an artist, she realized her true calling lay in the classroom.

“When I’m teaching, I get to be creative and interact with kids. Each day with kids is different, so I went ahead and got my teaching credential. Once I was back in the classroom I decided to direct my passion for art and storytelling into making children’s books.”

Jennifer's decision to embrace teaching was a defining moment. Her passion for art and storytelling found an outlet in creating children's books. But she didn't just craft any story; she introduced Reggie the Penguin to the world.

Reggie: Kid Penguin – Inspired by Her Students

The back cover of “Reggie: Kid Penguin” describes Reggie as .. “Reggie isn't your ordinary penguin. He's just like any other kid, always seeking adventure and fun. However, his curious and playful nature often lands him in amusing troubles, like attempting a “do it yourself” haircut before picture day and ending up gluing his feathers back on!”

For Jennifer, Reggie was a character inspired by the countless children she'd encountered over her 15 years of teaching. Teaching had a special way of keeping her connected to her inner child, reminding her of the joys of play and storytelling. Kids, like Reggie, possess a myriad of feelings, from curiosity to playfulness, loudness to quiet moments, and everything in between.

“Kids have so many feelings, and Reggie is like that too.  He can be curious, playful, loud, quite, loving and cranky.  Reggie initially started as a fun personal project for me. I was making comics for enjoyment and it was something I could share online for people to read while I was in the classroom teaching. But I wanted to create something that was honest – even though Reggie is a penguin, he feels like a real kid and honors their feelings and emotions.”

Jennifer's path to becoming a published author was far from easy. She worked tirelessly on her craft for almost a decade before securing a literary agent. Even then, her book “Reggie: Kid Penguin” went through multiple revisions and rejections before finding a home at Little Brown and Company publishing. It took several years of dedication, with the final art for the book being submitted in the spring of 2022 and the book being published in the spring of 2023.

Jennifer has already finished her second book, “Reggie: Penguin in Charge”, set for publication in the spring of 2024. In the midst of her literary success, she remains deeply connected to her teaching roots, continuing to inspire young minds through her "Fun With Drawing" class in the DPIE After School Enrichment Program. Each student who enrolls in her class gets a signed copy of her first book.

Jennifer's story is a testament to the power of hard work and following one's passions and belief in your dreams. Her ability to blend art, teaching, and storytelling has allowed her to create a world where children cannot only laugh but also learn valuable lessons about life and emotions through the adventures of Reggie Kid Penguin.