Popping, Hopping Penguins



By Richard and Florence Atwater, Illustrations by Robert Lawson


Published by: Little, Brown and Company (1941)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, library binding, audiobook CD, Kindle, NOOK


One webbed foot in, one webbed foot out.

We’re not talking the hokey pokey. This half in/half out description seems a good analogy of where Mr. Popper’s Penguins stands in today’s chapter books market.

The classic tale (with tails) is funny, original, charming and a delight. It’s also a bit dated (kids will not know what a “rotogravure” photo treatment is), not very PC (various family members spank a penguin for undesired behavior) and not in tune with today’s more natural-habitat treatment of wild animals.

Still. The penguin dialogue is quite expressive in one-syllable bursts, Mr. Popper is a befuddled, endearing caretaker, and the story has those crazy turns that kids love. Who wouldn’t want a penguin that merrily climbs in and out of the kitchen freezer?

Given the original publication date, it’s no wonder that kids and adult readers need to have patience with this story. It doesn’t start with a bang or even a bugle call. It meanders and slips smoothly into its fantastic tale, and is perhaps a bit more mature in both story length and vocabulary than modern chapter books. I wouldn’t wish this to be the only book a child has within reach, but this is definitely a great choice for that one old classic in a child’s library.

And although not every current version has all of illustrator Robert Lawson’s delicious, deep and evocative cross-hatch drawings, those alone are worth opening the book.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….