Saturday, February 09, 2008
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Atwater, Richard and Florence. 1938. Mr. Popper's Penguins.
Mr. Popper's Penguins is a Newbery Honor book for 1939. It is a completely silly story about a man's obsession with the poles and with penguins. Mr. Popper is a painter and a decorator. He doesn't make much money, but somehow he manages to support Mrs. Popper and his two children. (I think it is because Mrs. Popper is prone to having common sense.) The book opens in late September. The painting/decorating/wallpapering season being at an end apparently, the two are discussing their money issues. It's not a very "exciting" beginning until Mr. Popper remembers that the Drake expedition is going to be broadcasting live on the radio. Mrs. Popper is not really interested in the Arctic or the Antarctic or penguins or famous or infamous explorers. But Mr. Popper, this is what he lives for.
It seems that Mr. Popper wrote such an enthusiastic fan letter to his hero, Mr. Drake, that the man mentions him on the radio and promises to send him a surprise in the mail.
Of course, being a book called Mr. Popper's Penguins...you can pretty safely bet that that something is a PENGUIN.
A few quick changes to the house--turning the ice box into a penguin home for example--the family becomes solely focused on the new pet. They call him Captain Cook.
Never mind that in chapter one and two, Mrs. Popper was saying she hoped they had enough money to buy beans to eat throughout the winter. (With doubt in her voice nonetheless.) And after the penguin's arrival, Mr. Popper notes that he's giving away his last five dollars to the handyman to put air holes and a handle on the icebox. They suddenly, magically have enough to buy loads and loads of canned shrimp and later on fresh fish.
But that might be expecting too much??? Maybe.
Anyway, Captain Cook isn't happy living the bachelor life. He wallows around so much that Mr. Popper pops off another letter in the mail. This time to an aquarium/zoo type place. Then he hears back that they have a woeful girl penguin that they've given up for dead on account of her fierce lonesomeness. They give the penguin to the Poppers.
Of course these two penguins are going to want to have more penguins. And despite the fact that penguins can only lay at most two eggs per year, this penguin pair is going to lay 10 eggs all at once.
Now that there are twelve penguins--and only when there are now twelve penguins--does Mr. Popper begin to consider his wife's concerns that they didn't have enough money for their own family--mom, dad, two kids--let alone twelve antarctic pets. But they decide right then and there that they just need to train these penguins and they'll be rich and happy and live happily ever after.
Anyway, long story short. Very very silly. Very unrealistic. Very over-the-top. But on a positive note, it's quite short and definitely readable. Just don't think Mr. Popper knows his science or his logic.
First sentence: It was an afternoon in late September. In the pleasant little city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work.