Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater is a book I remember fondly from my childhood.  However, I didn’t remember much about it and I wanted to reread it before giving it to Bibi.  In fact, the only thing I remembered is that Mr Popper receives a penguin in the mail.  How he received a penguin, why anyone would send a penguin in the mail, I could not recall. 

This is a cute story about a man who is obsessed with the South Pole.  Barely able to make ends meet to support himself, his wife, and his two children, Mr Popper is settling into his slow season as a painter when a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep.  Much to his surprise, there is a penguin in the package.  When the news that he has a penguin reaches the media, a zoologist sends him a second penguin.  Soon, the home is overrun with penguins and chaos ensues.

I can see why I liked this story when I was a child.  It is quaint, an easily forgettable confection.  It doesn’t stand up well to time, frankly.  For very young readers, it might be fun.  Perhaps reading about Admiral Richard Byrd, the various continents, how introducing animals to new environments upsets the ecosystem, or even watch March of the Penguins to use this cute albeit dated novel as an opportunity to learn something that’s more rooted in truth and reality. 

I do hope Bibi will like it, seeing as how I picked up a copy at the library book sale.  It’s unfortunate that some things we loved from our childhood can’t retain their charm when revisited.  There is a back-story to this novel of which I was unaware as a child.  Apparently the husband started the novel but had a stroke and couldn't finish it.  His wife took up the challenge of revising the book after it had been turned down by two publishers.  There's something poignant about knowing that, because of her efforts, this children's novel became a Newbery Honor winner.  And the ending of the novel has another layer of meaning that only adults who are aware of the back-story will appreciate.  Nonetheless, I rather wish I had not reread the novel, myself, and just let myself hold onto the vague memory of this book being one I enjoyed as a child.

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