Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florance Atwater

A Newbery Honor Book
139 pages
Published 1938, reprinted as paperback 1992
Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY

This was the second or maybe third time I have read Mr. Popper's Penguins. The first time my mother read it to me, the second time I read it myself when I was around 12, and now years later I picked it up to re-read for the fun of it and to post a review.

Published in 1938, Mr. Popper's Penguins is the comical story of a mild-mannered house painter, Mr. Popper and how he and his family came to be the owners of a traveling troupe of performing penguins and the adventures that ensue.

Although I've known of this book for many years I only recently discovered that Mr. Popper's Penguins was not intended to be a co-authored novel by Mr. and Mrs. Atwater. It began as an idea Richard Atwater had after watching a documentary of Richard Byrd's 1928 expedition to Antarctica; but came to an abrupt halt when Richard suddenly suffered a stroke and was unable to continue writing. Wishing to finish what he started, Richard's wife, Florence, stepped in and finished writing the novel. Richard and Florence's writing styles compliment each other well, making for a seamless story that is wholesome, charming and entertaining for readers of all ages.

I loved this story as a child and having re-read it once again I have to say I still love it. It's a delightful children's story with a good measure of comedy and adventure. Because it is set in a time and place so different from the world we live in today it becomes historical even in its fictional setting.

I will note, that the only "negative" aspect of the book comes from a change in culture more than anything. For me, a modern woman living in the 21st century, the idea of a husband who sits around when he's not at work and does nothing to help with the house or children while the wife slaves away is... well, just foreign. But it was fairly normal for couples in the 1930s, so it makes sense that it is a part of Mr. Popper's Penguins. As I said, it is mostly a cultural aspect and something I noted while reading, but it never became an issue that interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

Besides the entertaining story plot, one of my favorite aspects of this book are the illustrations by Robert Lawson. Lawson is most famous for his illustrations in books like Ben and Me, Ferdinand, and Rabbit Hill (to name a few). While I was growing up my mother read several of these books to my siblings and me. Now whenever I pick one of them up I am swept up in memories of the past. I just love Lawson's artwork.

On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Mr. Popper's Penguins a 4. I really enjoyed this book, it is an American classic. I bought a paperback copy for my daughter's library and look forward to sharing it with her when she's a little older. Readers who aren't sure if they want to commit to their own copy should be able to locate one in their public library, after all it was the 1939 winner of the Newbery Honor Award.
In closing I want to share a quote from the beginning of this book -- this is precisely how I feel about books: When Mrs. Popper asks Mr. Popper if he ever gets tired of reading about places (i.e. Antarctica), he replies: "No, I don't. Of course I would much rather go there than read about it. But reading is the next best thing."


Rebecca Reid said...

aw, this brings back good memories from my childhood! I think I need to read this to my son too.

Amy said...

My girls, ages 4 and 3, have really enjoyed the audiobook of this, as have my husband and I. Somehow I missed this one as a child.