Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, 1938, Book Review

Mr-Poppers-PenguinsI really liked this book! I was hesitant at first, not knowing what to expect. The sentences  seemed a little simplistic, the details redundant, and the humor a bit corny. But I quickly realized this is not a middle grade novel but one aimed at a slightly younger audience, unusual for a Newbery winner. It’s a wonderful chapter book choice for 7 to 9-year-olds. So I amend my hasty judgments. The sentences are easy for new readers to wade through, the repetition helpful and even funny, and the outlandish plot will tickle any young child’s funny bone. And Richard Lawson’s quirky illustrations provide the icing on the cake. How cool to find such a quality novel for the younger set!

Mr. Popper is a house painter. Unfortunately, come winter, every house in Stillwater has been painted and papered and Mr. Popper is out of work till spring. He’s not too concerned. He’ll just prop his feet up and indulged in his favorite study, that of the North and South Poles. Mrs. Popper, however, fastidious housekeeper that she is, laments having Mr. Popper underfoot messing up her house for so long. And she’s concerned that money might run out. But the unlikely accumulation of twelve penguins sets the family on an entirely different course.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is full of kid-pleasing antics. Mr. Popper drills holes in his fridge so his penguins might nest in his icebox. He takes his newest pet for a walk on a leash while wearing a tuxedo and they both wind up sliding down stairs on their bellies together. He even turns his basement into a frozen tundra so his wife must play the piano with her gloves on. Eventually, Mr. Popper trains his penguins to perform for audiences and takes them on an audience-pleasing tour that earns him five thousand dollars a week.

The book’s seventy year history, rather than render it obsolete, simply adds to its charm. With quaint expressions, droll humor and a matter-of-fact delivery, it’s hard-hitting fun. Consider this hilarious clip, when Mr. Popper is trying to obtain a license for his penguins from City Hall, which has absolutely no ordinances concerning penguins:

…Every time he would explain what he wanted, he would be told to wait a minute, and much later a new voice would ask him what he wanted. This went on for a considerable time. At last a new voice seemed to take a little interest in the case. Pleased with this friendly voice, Mr. Popper began again to tell about Captain Cook.

“Is he an army captain, a police captain, or a navy captain?”

“He is not,” said Mr. Popper. “He is a penguin.”

“Will you repeat that, please?” said the voice.

Mr. Popper repeated it. The voice suggested that perhaps he had better spell it.

“P-e-n-g-u-i-n,” said Mr. Popper. “Penguin.”

“Oh!” said the voice. “You mean that Captain Cook’s first name is Benjamin?”

“Not Benjamin. Penguin. It’s a bird,” said Mr. Popper.

“Do you mean,” said the phone in his ear, “that Captain Cook wishes a license to shoot birds? I am sorry. The bird-hunting season does not open until November. And please try to speak a little more distinctly, Mr.–Topper, did you say your name is?”

“My name is Popper, not Topper,” shouted Mr. Popper.

“Yes, Mr. Potter. Now I can hear you quite clearly.”

In closing, let me add a little editorial about the recent movie of the same name which I, unfortunately, took my kids to see: It’s ridiculous and totally remakes the plot. It replaces all the book’s lovely, old-fashioned charm with stupidity, modern family issues, bathroom humor and a lot of “OMG!”  In short, use your ticket money to BUY THE BOOK!

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6 thoughts on “Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, 1938, Book Review

  1. thiskidreviewsbooks

    I really liked this book too! I heard the movie wasn’t good and now that I read what you thought of it I don’t think i’ll see it. I don’t like when they change an awesome book to fit into a movie and that happens a lot. Can you think of any great kids movies that re-tell the book well?

    Reply
  2. Michelle Post author

    Good question! I thought the first Narnia movie, Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, was an excellent, true-to-the-book flick, and the latest one, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, deviated a bit but stayed with the feel of the original story. (Prince Caspian, however, was terrible.) I also really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It had some long battle scenes, so I don’t know that I’d call it a kids movie, but I thought those felt like the books, too. Bridge to Terebithia was pretty accurate as well because, as I was told, the author’s son was heavily involved. Tuck Everlasting, one of my favorite books, was a disappointing movie.

    How about you, got some favorites?

    Reply
    1. thiskidreviewsbooks

      I haven’t seen any of the Chronicles of Narnia movies, but I really liked the books. My mom said the first movie was the best and she said we can rent those movies. I haven’t seen or read the Lord of the Rings or Tuck Everlasting. I really liked BFG the book and movie and the 101 Dalmations -the movie with Glenn Close (mom had to tell me her name) as Cruella. I wasn’t fond of the Lightining THief movie and the Diary of a wimpy kid movie. The Guarians of Gahoole was OK, but the books were just OK too.

      Reply
  3. Michelle Post author

    I’ll have to check out BFG with my kids. I didn’t know it was a movie. And you’re right, I loved the Dalmations too. I haven’t read The Lightning Thief yet, though it’s on my to-read list. Did you like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the book? It didn’t appeal to me, so I haven’t read it. As far as Gahool, I agree with you.

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my absolute, nothing-will-ever-top-it, FAVORITE story ever. You’ve got to read it if your mom will let you. I’d put them in the ten and older category, because the written story is pretty innocent. The movies, like I said, overdo the battles, but I let my kids (ages 6-12) watch them with me. We simply skip the battles and I explain enough to follow the storyline without them. It takes hours off the movies, and my kids love the fantasy. You can check out my review if you want. It’s one of my favorites.

    Reply
    1. thiskidreviewsbooks

      The Lightning Thief books are great but I like the Kane Chronicles (by Rick Riordan too) even better. I think the Dairy of a Wimpy kid books are awesome! They are silly. I didn’t like the movie as much. Mom says I should read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. My parents didn’t like the Lord of the Rings movies and my Dad thinks they’d be creepy for me until I’m older. I’m going to look at your review :)

      Reply
  4. Michelle Post author

    You talked me into it. I’ll try Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And I’ll make a note of the Kane Chronicles. My summer reading list is very long, and getting longer! And somehow, I’m trying to finish up my own MG fantasy novel. We’ll see if I can cram it all in before homeschool starts up again.

    Reply

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