One of my favorite picture books is Carol Diggory Shields' "Martian Rock." Illustrated by Steven Nash, this rhymer is an introduction to astronomy for the younger set. A group of colorful Martians visit the planets in attempt to find life in the universe. Finally, on their last stop, the planet closest to home, they find life. Penguins! The Martians land in Antartica and phone home, "We need wonder no more--Life has been found on the planet next door!"
Penguins as earth's representative life forms. Very cute and funny. Even to a small child.
Speaking of small children and penguins, penguins play an important role in the movie Madagascar. The movie itself is not so great (though my four year old found it laugh-out-loud funny), but the penguins rule. Paranoid superspies, they make their way to Antarctica only to hightail it back to better climes.
Penguins have reached mouse and bear status in kid lit.