I grew up in a home where we read a lot. Going to the library each weekend was my favorite activity. And, in Middle School, when I had downtime between school ending and my after school activities, I could often be found loitering in the stacks of our local public library. Yet with all the reading we did, I missed quite a few Newberry Honor books. After all, there are only so many hours in the day.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a book I didn’t hear about until I was an adult, strangely. And the premise never grabbed me. A family in the American Midwest suddenly acquires some penguins? Antics ensue, I guess? A movie by Jim Carey (which, I have been told, is barely reflective of the book)? The appeal just wasn’t there. Yet, I am on a quest to read all the Newbery Honor and Award winners– so Mr. Popper’s Penguins was surely going to pop-up sometime!
This beautiful and brief book tells the tale of unassuming Mr. Popper, a simple, humble man who longs to be a polar explorer! After writing to Antarctic explorer Admiral Drake, a gift arrives in the mail: Admiral Drake sent Mr. Popper his own penguin! The newly named Captain Cook explores and has tons of fun with the Poppers for a few days. Sadly, he begins to get lethargic and sad. Uncertain what to do, the Popper’s contact the local aquarium to request assistance. The caretaker assumes Captain Cook is lonely. So, obviously, the aquarium sends a lady penguin to join Captain Cook at the Popper home.
One penguin became two, with the addition of Greta. You can imagine what comes next: 8 additional penguins! (Yes, the Atwaters address that most penguins only have one egg at a time. They attribute all this to the penguins living in a different habitat. Suspend, people– suspend!) Soon we have 10 penguins. What does a Midwestern family do with 10 penguins? Why, turn them into a traveling show of course!
For this reading of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, I listened to the audiobook. It was very cute. Lots of sound effects and music were added to help illustrate the antics our penguins got into. And they surely got into antics! Plus, listening to narrator Nick Sullivan repeatedly say “Gawrk!” and “Ork!” was hilarious. I giggled constantly. Listening to this book read aloud really brought me back to feeling like a child again. It was the same feeling I got when my mother read books aloud to me as a kid.
This book was originally published in 1938 by Richard and Florence Atwater. Now, if you think about that, the majority of fiction published in the 30s were a reflection on the Great Depression. There were few women who were published at this time, and few books that focused on children in such a way. Yet, in society, the roles of men and women were changing. Richard Atwater started writing this book in the early 1930s. As a newspaper columnist, author, and former classics instructor, this was one of his major sources of income. He already had a children’s book called Doris and the Trolls published in 1931.
However, Richard suffered a stroke in 1934 which left him unable to speak or write. Florence Atwater took up leading the household at that time when few women did such things. She also became published, even in The New Yorker. The final manuscript her husband was working on before the stroke was for a book titled Ork! The Story of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. She finalized the manuscript, and the two together won the 1939 Newbery Honor.
A delightful story filled with clever moments and laughter– I strongly recommend this to any lovers of children’s literature. Or penguins. Penguin lovers too. 🙂