Mr. Popper's Penguins
by Richard and Florence Atwater
unabridged audio read by Paul Hecht
juvenile fiction, 1938
I have a vague memory of beginning to read this book to my son many years ago without success. I have a feeling he wasn't interested, and I found it hard to bring enthusiasm to the reading. When I saw that Mr. Popper's Penguins was available as an audio book, I thought I'd give it another try. And I am so glad I did. I simply loved it. Mr. Popper is a house painter, and in the winter months when he cannot paint, he reads and reads and reads about explorers and faraway places. He longs to visit the Poles, both North and South. He writes a letter to an Admiral Drake who is exploring Antarctica, and, lo and behold, he receives a reply; not just a letter, but in the form of a real, live penguin. He names the little fellow Captain Cook, and the Poppers rearrange their entire lives to accommodate his presence. As time passes, the penguin languishes, and a veterinarian doesn't know how to cure him. Mr. Popper writes to an aquarium where he knows there is a penguin in residence, and finds out that she isn't healthy either. Well, you may guess what happens next. The head of the aquarium sends the little girl to Mr. P. and both penguins flourish and multiply, to the tune of ten little ones. The whole cellar is turned into an arctic paradise for the penguins, and after a while they hit the show circuit.
As I listened, I could see why it wasn't such a hit with my young boy. It is quite slow and descriptive, and subtle. It doesn't have a lot of drama or excitement. But for this adult reader, it couldn't have been better. I loved this quiet, close family, and the way they all rally together to take care of one, then two, and then a whole family of penguins. And those penguins! They are so adorable. The narrator, Paul Hecht does a terrific job of making penguin noises, and he really brought them to life. The adventures of the Poppers and the penguins are so much fun to read about, and I found myself imagining the delight of having them in my own cellar, climbing ladders or stairs, and then "tobogganing" down on their bellies.
If you haven't come upon this little gem in your reading travels, you might want to pick it up sometime. It will offer you quiet chuckles, and a few laugh-out-loud moments, and an inner warmth to brighten your spirit. Just lovely.
An Antarctic Emperor Penguin. (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photograph)