Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
Sep 21, 2012
Mr. Popper is a husband and father who paints houses for a living and dreams of Antarctica for the rest of the time. One day, just after the painting season has ended, a package shows up on his doorstep, and wonder of wonders, it's a penguin! Mr. Popper couldn't be happier. He names his new pet Captain Cook and enjoys taking him on walks. Then Captain Cook grows lonely, and through a series of fortunate events, a female penguin (Greta) is also sent to Mr. Popper. Together, Captain Cook and Greta have ten baby penguins. Mr. Popper is in heaven and lives to be down in the freezing basement watching his beloved birds. But Mrs. Popper realizes that they will soon be out of money. And thus, Popper's Performing Penguins is born.
I remember my mom reading this book aloud when I was a child, and I don't remember disliking it. It seemed like a good choice for my next read-aloud to Aaron because he has quite the sense of humor, and what could be funnier than twelve penguins living in a house?
I guess you can already tell that the book did not live up to my expectations. First of all, it's terribly slow. A whole chapter was spent describing the nest Captain Cook (the penguin, remember?) built in the refrigerator. A walk around town took up another two chapters. There just wasn't anything very gripping about the plot to make us want to read another chapter. (But we plugged along anyway.)
Also, through no fault of its own, the language is outdated. Neither Aaron or Max had any idea what was happening when the "service man" came to fix the "ice box." Of course, this provided some great opportunities for learning new words, but it also made the slow pace of the story even slower since I had to stop and explain what had happened every few pages.
And then there's Mr. Popper himself. He's just not your normal children's book protagonist. In fact, I found him to be odd and quirky but not really in a funny or entertaining way. He's oblivious to the needs of his wife and children, and there's not anything endearing or redeeming about him.
To top it off, the ending was just so ridiculous, even Aaron and Max could tell I did not approve. At the last minute, Mr. Popper hops aboard a ship bound for the Arctic, and without asking a single question, his wife and children happily send him off for the next two or three years. What?! In a single paragraph, Mr. Popper went from odd and quirky to downright irresponsible.
So that's my honest opinion. Now as far as Aaron and Max are concerned, I think they liked it well enough. They were definitely bored at times, but there were scenes that captured their attentions and which they relived in the days afterward. Aaron is still talking about the snowstorm inside the house, and he keeps telling me he wishes he could jump off the chair into a big snow pile. Ahhh, dreams. And a few days ago, my sister-in-law was at our house, and she was acting out scripture stories with the boys. She asked Aaron what his favorite story was, and he said, "Mr. Popper's Penguins!" I'm consoling myself with the hope that he didn't realize she was talking about scripture stories. At any rate, I guess he liked the book well enough to list it as a "favorite," at least for a short time.
My final opinion is that even though this book received a Newbery Honor, it has worn out its popularity. It's not a bad book, but there are many far better books to choose from.
Do you have any good recommendations for a four-year-old? I'd love to hear them!