Originally published in 1938, and a “Newbery” honor book, Mr. Popper’s Penguins still delights. I asked my son, Coleman, a third-grader, to read the book without mentioning its classic status and he raved about it. Having a cool cover design by Michael Emberley pulled him in, but the marvelous story by Richard and Florence Atwater with illustrations by Robert Lawson is what kept his interest peaked.
According to Coleman, the main characters in the book are Mr. and Mrs. Popper, their son Bill and daughter Janie plus 12 penguins. Mr. Popper is a house painter and one day he sends a letter to Admiral Drake in the South Pole. Several weeks later Admiral Drake’s show about his Antarctic explorations is live on the radio. During his show he addresses Mr. Popper on the radio, referring to his letter. “Since you want a little piece of Antarctica, there will be a special surprise for you in the mail.”
In a few weeks, the box from Admiral Drake arrives and when Mr. Popper opens it, out pops a penguin as curious as a cat. The penguin proceeds to explore the house and is named Captain Cook by the Popper family. When he gets sick, the local aquarium sends over another penguin named Greta. Soon Greta lays an egg and then another until there are a total of 10 baby penguins.
The story, according to my son, is about what life is like for the Poppers who are now the proud owners of 12 penguins. During their stay at the Popper home, the penguins discover that staircases are for tobogganing, and sibling rivalry is not all fun and games. The family puts on a show and travels from coast to coasst, but you have to read the book to find out the rest!