I 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!