Review: Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater

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. 

Mr. Popper’s Penguins was published in 1938. Normally this site won’t review a book this old, but I’m feeling nostalgic, and, quite frankly, this book is wildly under-appreciated.

There were three books that defined my childhood: Robin Hood, Harry Potter, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I read this book more times than I could count; when I picked it up again a couple years ago, despite not having read it for ten years, I remembered every plot point, every detail, even the smallest, and I still loved it.

Now, I should say here that no, I have not seen the movie. I’m not a fan of Jim Carrey and from the previews it was clear the movie was not a faithful adaptation of the book. I have decided not to see it and so will not be able to ask questions about it or how it compares to the book, except to make a general note that the book is almost always better.

Mr. Popper loves penguins. One day, he sends a letter to an Antarctic explorer who thanks him by sending him a penguin in return. Months later, the penguin, Captain Cook, gets a companion from the aquarium, Gretta, and Captain Cook and Gretta lay ten eggs, and ten little penguin chicks are the result.

As the penguins grow, Mrs. Popper finds that they can learn a routine of stunts set to music, and the Popper family goes on performing tour with the penguins. The ending is sweet, and always warmed my heart as a kid.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is written with wit and charm. Mr. Popper is a sweet, bumbling character who always tries to do his best. His escapades, and his attempts at mitigating the problems that come with living with twelve penguins, are hilarious and endearing. It’s the sort of story both a young child and an adult can read and enjoy, one that stays with you and will still be enjoyed years later. If you have a six- or seven-year-old who loves reading or needs to read more, this book is perfect; if you know a teen or adult who wants new reading material, this book is just as good. There’s a reason it’s been in print for seventy-four years, and it’s just a pity more people haven’t read it.

Overall rating: 5/5

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11 responses to “Review: Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater

  • paulguildea

    I find, in general, books hold more of a journey than a movie. Visuals take away the ‘getting into the authors mind’. However, I did enjoy the movie, despite Jim Carrey.

    • ARamone

      Yeah. It seems to me the books are always more in-depth as well; you get a better sense of the character’s motivations and thoughts in a book than in a movie. Movies always end up leaving bits out.

  • ARamone

    @ Silvers Account: Perhaps. I just felt I’d explain about it in case people asked. The troll comment is because it was so over the top that it doesn’t come about as serious. (We’re also Canadian, but they can be forgiven for not knowing, because we haven’t paraded it.) They also commented specifically on my thoughts on Jim Carrey, who I really didn’t judge at all; I just said I don’t like his movies, which I clearly can’t know without having seen them, but it’s not a judgement on him, so they way they entirely missed the point of the comment makes it seem less like a serious comment and more like someone just trying to annoy people, though that’s just how it came off to me. Based on the trailer (which had several things not in the book at all, and which was quite clearly different in tone) and the lead actor (who I tend not to be a fan of), and what people had said about it, I decided not to see it as it didn’t sound like my kind of film. I’d actually intended to deter people from commenting on the movie with that bit because I couldn’t talk about it accurately and didn’t want to pass judgement on it (looking back, it did sound like I made a condemnation of the movie; wasn’t my intention, sorry ’bout that), but looks like that really backfired…I guess I misjudged things. Oh well.

    • ARamone

      Update: that bit has been edited. Normally I take a bit more time and read over my reviews once (or twice) before posting them, but I hadn’t done that this time and probably should have.

  • gold account

    As a kids movie, Mr. Popper’s Penguins is passable fare, though I can’t imagine many children will care much about whether the Tavern will retain its old school charm. The penguins, a mix of real and CG birds, are cute, and unless you find penguin poop and fart jokes offensive, the film’s humor is kid friendly with a few jokes for parents sprinkled in. The supporting cast does a decent job, and Carrey’s performance, with its mix of silliness and over-the-top physicality, is entertaining and similar to the role he played in the superior kids movie, Liar Liar. The film is also markedly different from the beloved 1938 book the film is loosely based on.

    • ARamone

      I’ve never been a fan of that sort of humour, nor over-the-top acting, which is why I tend not to be a fan of Jim Carrey (and why I wasn’t much of a fan of Liar Liar). I just thought I’d make a note about the movie in case people asked about it, that’s all.

      • Silvers Account

        Maybe next time make a note about not making a note about the movie. Also, troll is hardly a fair assessment. I think he makes some fine points. It’s unfair to judge a person or a film without first taking the time to watch it for yourself. It comes off as rather close minded, which is why they probably made the “typical American” assessment.

  • Poonte Scotts

    You have offended me and my people. All of the people of my school are avid fans of Jim Carrey. In fact, I’ve met him on several occasions and he’s helped to pay for my bills when I was dealing with Influentza. You are a fine example of an uneducated American hating on fine outstanding citizens of the world. I pray to the lord God almighty that he brings about righteous just on you for your cruel and hurtful words. Good day you foul creature of darkness!

  • silver price

    I read this book as a child, about 35 years ago; I read it again to some of my children about 10 years ago; I recently read it to my youngest children a few months ago. I love the book and Mr. Popper. If you are expecting any resemblance to the book, you will be disappointed. The only similarities to the book are penguins, and some names (Popper, Captain, Bill and Janie).

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