Mr. Popper’s Penguins

by Richard and Florence Atwater (1938)

An old chestnut. But just as tasty and intriguing for its age.

Sometimes schools are looking for a book that escapes from the spark and flash and bombast of the 21st century, a book that returns to simple prose and the elemental silliness of children’s imaginations.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is such a book. First published during the Depression – it is miraculously still in print. Why is that?

It is because, like other classic children’s literature from before WWII, from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz to Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Dr. Doolittle, it takes a simple fantastic premise, and runs riot with it.

The ordinary house-painter, Mr. Popper, engages his peculiar, eccentric interest in all things Antarctic and attempts to raise and care for a troop of penguins. Fantastical, yes.  And yet it has been engaging and beguiling literally generations of children who have marveled at the silly antics of the penguins, but also have fallen under the spell of a straight-forward novel of redemption.  No special effects and pyrotechnics needed.

This simplicity allows readers and listeners of this novel to re-acquaint themselves with the value and beauty of lovely English prose – meant to amuse and entertain, not to instruct.

Note: Mr. Popper’s Penguins is one of several One School, One Book titles that Read to Them recommends as easier, entry titles for for less experienced parent readers to master and command.

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