Author: Richard and Florence Atwater
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: (Originally published in 1938)
There's been a lot of discussion about Mr. Popper's Penguins and the new movie with the same name in the past few weeks. Let me just preface this review by saying that the book is NOTHING like the movie. At all. Pretty much the only aspect that they share is the fact the main character gets a penguin.
Unlike the selfish, haughty character that appears in the movie, the Mr. Popper of the original book is a selfless and kind family man who daydreams of traveling and loves everything exploration. He has a wife and two kids (whom he loves dearly), and they live in the days-gone-by in a modest house on Proudfoot Ave.
And then one day out of the blue, Mr. Popper—the humble painter—becomes the most popular man in the small town of Stillwater. However, the reason behind his popularity has nothing whatsoever to do with his own merit or personal gain. His favorite Antarctic explorer, Admiral Drake, sends him a surprise in response to a fan letter. The surprise turns out to be life-altering—the Popper family soon has snow all over their house and a large freezing plant installed in the cellar--not to mention twelve additions to their family of four! But Mr. Popper’s unique visitors could not have come at a more opportune time; the Poppers are in financial trouble and his friends can save the day.
The Popper family is always respectful of each other in their conversation. Family values are also held in high-esteem--something that the literature of this day could use a heftier amount of. The penguins are trained to be polite. Despite the fame that his penguins give him, Mr. Popper remains humble and seeks to only do what is best for the penguins instead of seeking his personal monetary gain. Flexibility and patience abound. Admiral Drake gives of himself to help Mr. Popper in a time of need. The text is easy to read and well-composed, showing rather than telling; the book won the Newberry Honor Award in 1939 for its excellent literary quality. The characterizations of the individual penguins are specific and funny despite the fact that the authors could not use dialog to make them so. The authors present even adult-like concepts (such as the Popper's money problems) with grace and clarity such that even children will be able to sympathize with them and find joy in the solution.
Typical of the day in which the book was written, Mr. Popper smokes a cigar while reading the paper. The conclusion seems a short and a bit stiff compared to the rest of the manuscript (but still brings a smile and satisfaction).
Otherwise, Mr. Popper's Penguins is an excellent example of the a well-composed children's book (that could also serve as a great family read-aloud), and it receives five stars from me!
How do you feel about the differences between the movie and the book?