Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review: Mr. Popper's Penguins (Enhanced) by Richard and Florence Atwater

Mr. Popper has penguins in his fridge, an ice rink in the basement, and a family for whom life will never be the same

How many penguins in the house is too many? Mr. Popper is a humble house painter living in Stillwater who dreams of faraway places like the South Pole. When an explorer responds to his letter by sending him a penguin named Captain Cook, Mr. Popper and his family’s lives change forever. Soon one penguin becomes twelve, and the Poppers must set out on their own adventure to preserve their home.

First published in 1938, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a classic tale that has enchanted young readers for generations.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Richard and Florence Atwater including rare photos from the authors’ estate.

I first found out about Mr. Popper's Penguins when I saw the trailer for the Jim Carrey movie. I've never heard about the book before so I was surprised to learn that it was a book first before becoming a movie.

Mr. Popper's Penguins, the book version, is set in the 1930s and chronicles the life of Mr. Popper, an Artic and Antartic enthusiast, and his family after the arrival of a penguin from the South Pole.

I really liked the old-school-style writing of this book. By that I mean, it's very whimsical and kinda makes you feel like it's your grandmother who's reading the story to you. It's the kind of book that you just know, even though you're only in the first chapter, is a feel-good story. The illustrations evoke that same feeling.

It's not hard to be drawn into the Poppers' world. The penguins are quite lovable, particularly Captain Cook who seems super cute and smart.

While the story ages well, I'm a little bit glad that when they made the movie, they didn't follow the story too closely. I feel like this is one book wherein the left-to-the-imagination version is better than the movie version.

Thanks to NetGalley and Open Road for the e-copy. For more info on Mr. Popper's Penguins, and to purchase a copy, please click here.

  1. Interesting story.
  2. Cute penguins.
  3. Simple storytelling style yet vivid descriptions.
  1. Compared to the conflicts we see in most modern books, the conflict in this book doesn't seem climactic enough.
Now a penguin may look very strange in a living room, but a living room looks very strange to a penguin.
  1. You like animals, especially penguins.
  2. You like classic children's books.
  3. You like stories about families who go on adventures.


In 1932, Richard Atwater and his wife, Florence, took their two daughters to see a documentary film about Richard E. Byrd’s Antarctic expedition. Mr. Atwater was very impressed by the movie, and he decided to write a book about the penguins from Antarctica. When one of his daughters objected to children’s books about history, he started to write a magical story about a group of penguins, which would later become Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

Richard Tupper Atwater was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1892. He studied at the University of Chicago and taught Greek there while in graduate school. He later went on to work as a writer for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers. Florence Hasseltine Carroll was born in 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. She also obtained two degrees at the University of Chicago, where her Classical Greek teacher was a young man named Richard Atwater! They married in 1921. Florence taught high school French, English, and Latin, and she also wrote a number of articles for the New Yorker and the Atlantic.

Richard’s first children’s book was Doris and the Trolls, about two children who follow a cat named Mitzi to a land of mischievous trolls to rescue the Ting Tang Fairy. His second was a children’s operetta called The King’s Sneezes. In it, the Fiddlers Three have been sent to the dungeon for laughing when King Nicholas sneezes, and it’s up to young Max Luckyfoot to cure him.
Richard had completed a manuscript called Ork! The Story of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, when he suffered a severe stroke in 1934 and was forced to stop writing. He lived until 1948, but could never write again. So Florence took over.

After two publishers rejected the book, Florence rewrote the story, keeping many parts the same but adding more realistic events. (In the version written by Richard Atwater, Mr. Popper draws a penguin on a mirror with shaving cream and it comes to life!) The revised manuscript was accepted and published in 1938.

Florence lived until the age of eighty-three and died in 1979. Mr. Popper’s Penguins remained a bestselling book throughout her lifetime, and has enchanted children and adults for over seventy years. It has won many awards, including the Newbery Honor, and has been translated into many languages.


Note: This post contains Amazon and Book Depository affiliate links.

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