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Mr. Popper's Penguins Mass Market Paperback – May 1, 1992
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More than 60 years have not dated this wonderfully absurd tale--it still makes kids (and parents) laugh out loud. Poor Mr. Popper isn't exactly unhappy; he just wishes he had seen something of the world before meeting Mrs. Popper and settling down. Most of all, he wishes he had seen the Poles, and spends his spare time between house-painting jobs reading all about polar explorations. Admiral Drake, in response to Mr. Popper's fan letter, sends him a penguin; life at 432 Proudfoot Avenue is never the same again. From one penguin living in the icebox, the Popper family grows to include 12 penguins, all of whom must be fed. Thus is born "Popper's Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole." Their adventures while on tour are hilarious, with numerous slapstick moments as the penguins disrupt other acts and invade hotels. Classic chapter-a-night fun. (Ages 5 to 10) --Richard Farr
About the Author
Before his death in 1948, Richard Atwater was a newspaper columnist and a professor of Greek. He is best known for writing Mr. Popper's Penguins with his wife, Florence, who finished the novel when he fell ill. Together, they were honored with the 1939 Newbery Honor Award.
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For those of you who haven't read the book, the basic premise is that a house painter who spends his off-hours reading about (and writing to) explorers in the South Pole receives a penguin in the mail from one of those explorers. Since his work is over for the winter, he becomes very involved in the comfort and care of said penguin (and the eleven other penguins that quickly follow). In the end, he transforms his basement into an ice rink (an idea my daughter wholeheartedly supports, by the way), and spends more than his wife ever thought possible on fish and canned shrimp.
I won't tell you how an out-of-work house painter manages to pay for all that (wouldn't want to spoil the ending), but I will say that the process is highly entertaining for all involved. I found myself looking forward to each night's installment of Mr. Popper nearly as much as The Four-Year-Old.
Although I personally found the ending to be highly improbable, The Four-Year-Old saw nothing at all the matter with it--except for that little bit of unpleasantness with the policemen and firemen--and has spent many a happy evening reenacting the finale in the bathtub.
And now, if you will excuse me, I need to go read Mr. Popper's Penguins to The Four-Year-Old again. I promised her I would as soon as I finished writing the review.
(Excerpted from review posted on my blog: Caterpickles-Scientific & Linguistic Engagement with a 4-Year-Old Mind)
Ignore the modern movie adaptation of the book, and you will find the story is very simple. There are none of the emotional, unresolved issues that run through every member of the family in the movie. Mr. Popper was a forgetful house painter who must have painted every house in Stillwater, sometimes many times over. When he was not working, which was the winter months, he had all the time to sit in his chair and read about the Antarctic. He even wrote to Admiral Drake, a famous explorer, and to his surprise, one day he found a rather large package arrive by express mail, with a live penguin inside. From there begins the delightful adventure and episodes of slapstick humour when Mr. Popper tries to convince a service man to drill holes in a refrigerator and put a handle inside one, or when he calls City Hall to try and find out if a license is needed to keep a penguin. In the early decades of the twentieth century, it is not that surprising that people would not have heard of penguins. The cute birds are after all found only in Antarctica.
The book is a happy tale, though you do wonder sometimes just how much the penguins would have liked being outside their native home of Antarctica. But then again, you have to remind yourself that this is a seventy five year old book. Mr. Popper is a fairly uni-dimensional man, a quiet man, a good husband and a good father, and most of all, a good penguin keeper. There are no villains in this book, at least none that are downright evil or mean.
The book, in my opinion, given how pervasive digital animation movies have become, may not appeal to older children. That is the reason I said at the beginning of my review that this book may be best enjoyed if read by an adult to young children.
If you buy the e-book version, you also get a short biography of the author, Richard Atwater, and his wife and collaborator, Florence Atwater, along with nine photographs.
This is a fun book for parents, family members, or friends and tutors to read to small fry. The reader and the readee will enjoy the first time, and the tutee can read the book alone to familiarize himself/herself with the new words to be learned.