Monday, April 23, 2012

Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Having read so many juvenile and children’s books lately this was a real treat. Not only has Mr Popper’s Penguins been on my to read list but it comes highly recommended on many reading lists. Published in 1938, Mr Popper’s Penguins is a children’s classic. Last year it was made into a movie (I haven’t seen it yet and was waiting until after I read the book) and in turn was re-released as a book with a short biography of the writers at the end. The thing I noticed first about Mr Popper’s Penguins is the language. I know it’s a classic and the story is delightful but I think I’ve been kind of ruined for children’s fiction. There is such an expectation nowadays to have tighter more descriptive language. We want each word to have meaning so we don’t feel like we are wasting our time. Good stories are lost in a sea of expectations for language. It was actually a relief to read something that was just a good story. The story is horribly silly and that’s great. There’s no evil to be conquered and everything works out fine. There is a small moment when the group arrives at the wrong theatre but even then it’s all in good fun. I miss that. I miss just enjoying the ride. For those not familiar with the story – Mr Popper receives a penguin in the mail from a famous explorer in Antarctica. He and his wife make a home for the penguin in their refrigerator (with help from their two children). Soon, Captain Cook (as the penguin is named) becomes ill. Fearful that there is something terribly wrong with him, Mr Popper writes to a zoologist who in return sends him Greta, a penguin with a similar problem. Over the winter, Greta and Captain Cook become parents to 10 babies. In true fancy, they become performing penguins and everyone goes on the road. This is a great adventure for all. The book is simple enough for a young reader to understand. Middle grade and older students might find there is not enough action in the book but I still recommend encouraging them to try to read this book. It’s from a different time when kids weren’t force feed stimulation all day long. It reminds the reader that not everything has to be action oriented and sometimes a good story is just a good story.

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