I have a penguin problem. When I was in the 3rd grade, I made a penguin habitat out of a shoebox and a white mold-a-rama penguin from the Brookfield Zoo. Ever since then I’ve been a crazy penguin lady. Penguin jewelry, penguin trinkets, penguin teapots, an entire drawer full of penguin pajamas…
It should come as no surprise that I count Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater among my favorite books. I do NOT approve of the blasphemy that was the recent Jim Carrey debacle of a movie. Okay, I guess I can’t really DISAPPROVE of penguins being adorable in a movie, but as an adaptation of a book, it was abominable.
I first read Mr. Popper’s Penguins when I was… I don’t really remember. Somewhere between 9 and 11 I’m guessing. We’ll say 10. Obviously, I loved it. I’ve since read it a few more times over the years and it never ceases to amuse me. When I was a kid, I loved the idea of turning my house into a giant skating rink for penguins to play around in. Who wouldn’t love to have a house full of penguins?! (This was before I thought about the grossness of bird poop in one’s dwelling…) Penguins doing circus tricks and forming a travelling show? I would have spent my allowance on that ticket!
When I read this as an adult, I am not immune to its whimsy, but there are a few things that make me giggle. The bit that stands out to me the most though is Mrs. Popper. This book was written in 1938, so you’d expect the mother figure in a children’s story to be a homemaker. Poor Mrs. Popper, all she ever does is complain about what a mess Mr. Popper (a house painter by trade) makes in the house. It takes some SERIOUS penguin charm to get her to be on board with a pack of antarctic birds hanging out in her house. In the winter. With the windows wide open.
The Mrs. Popper moment that is (probably unintentionally) hilarious to me is at the end. The Poppers realize that it isn’t a good idea to keep a flock of penguins living in their home, so they agree to send them off to pioneer a new penguin colony at the North Pole. (Because if you didn’t know, penguins are a South Pole thing. And they hang out on some islands too. But they most certainly do not live at the North Pole naturally. Which is why I sometimes get annoyed at holiday items that show penguins and polar bears together, because that just doesn’t happen in nature. Of course, then I remember that penguins don’t really wear hats and scarves either, but that doesn’t make it any less adorable, and I get over it. Also, polar bears are ruthless savages that would EAT penguins, which is not a good thing.)
Anyway, at the end of the book, Mr. Popper is devastated that he’s got to let his beloved penguins go… Until the arctic expedition captain pipes up and offers Mr. Popper the opportunity to hop aboard the ship and join the penguin pilgrimage. Wait- this is where it gets funny. Mr. Popper turns to Mrs. Popper and his children and goes, “Hey are you guys cool if I’m not home for supper… or at all… for the next year or two?” And his kids are all like “Yeah that’s cool, take care of the penguins.”
But Mrs. Popper’s reaction is priceless. Mrs. Popper says something to the effect of “I’ll miss you, but it’ll be really nice to not have to clean up after your messy self for the next two years. I think we’ve got enough in the bank. Later!” Sigh. Whimsy goes with everything.
So bookworms, do any of you have silly animal obsessions or oddball collections? (If anyone says “jars of urine,” I’m seriously going to rethink this question segment…)