Mr Popper’s Penguins Summary

Richard Tupper Atwater, Florence Atwater, Robert Lawson

Mr Popper’s Penguins

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Mr Popper’s Penguins Summary

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Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a 1938 children’s novel written by Richard and Florence Atwater, and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The novel tells the story of a painter who tries to raise a dozen penguins in his family’s home, only to discover that the job is harder than he thought. To help pay the cost of raising the penguins, he takes them on a nationwide circus tour, with amusing consequences. The novel is considered a classic by children’s literature critics; it won a Newbery Honor in 1939 and the Young Readers Choice Award in 1940. The book was adapted in 2011 into a movie starring Jim Carrey.

Mr. Popper, a house painter, lives in the town of Stillwater, Oklahoma, with his wife and two children. Although he leads a mundane life, Mr. Popper is always reading about polar expeditions and dreaming of places he’s never been to. He especially loves winter time, when he can take a break from painting houses to stay home and read. The Poppers listen to a radio broadcast by Admiral Drake, a North Pole explorer to whom Mr. Popper had sent a fan letter. The Admiral had written back, promising a surprise. The surprise turns out to be a penguin, which arrives at the Poppers’ house in a large box.

Mr. Popper names the penguin Captain Cook, after the famous explorer, Jack Cook, and keeps him in the family’s icebox refrigerator. He drills holes into the door of the icebox so that the penguin can breathe, and installs a handle on the inside. He takes the penguin out for walks on a leash and even to the barbershop. Captain Cook grows larger, but seems to be unhealthy. Mr. Popper writes to the curator of an aquarium for advice. The curator tells him that he has a female penguin, Greta, who is experiencing the same symptoms. He suggests that the two penguins are just lonely and would benefit from each other’s company. As a solution, he sends Greta to live with the Poppers.

Since there is no room in the icebox for another penguin, Mr. Popper opens the windows to let the cold winter air drift in and keep the house cool. Once the summer comes, however, he decides to move both penguins to the basement, where he has a special habitat built for them, complete with ice castle, skating rink, and diving pond. Greta begins to lay an egg every three days. She eventually lays ten eggs in total, which hatch into ten baby penguins. Mr. Popper suspects that she laid more eggs than penguins usually do because of the change in climate she experienced. The Poppers are under significant financial strain because they must now buy fish to feed twelve penguins and pay the bill for installing the habitat in the basement.

Mrs. Popper suggests selling or eating the penguins. However, Mr. Popper decides to train the penguins to perform to music. The family then books an agent and takes the penguins on a national circus tour, charging people admission to see them perform while Mrs. Popper plays the piano. The circus act travels to theaters all over the country, with several humorous adventures and mishaps along the way, including competition with a rival seal act. When the tour gets to New York, however, Mr. Popper accidentally takes the penguins to the wrong theater. After the penguins cause damage to the theater, the manager is angry and has Mr. Popper and the penguins arrested. Admiral Drake, who came to New York to see Mr. Popper’s penguin act, bails him and the birds out of jail.

The Admiral suggests that the penguins would be better off living in a natural environment than traveling the country in a circus act. He offers to take the penguins with him on his expedition to the North Pole, where he will release them into the Arctic environment. Although Mr. Klein, a Hollywood filmmaker, had offered to give the penguins a career in the movies, Mr. Popper ultimately decides that the penguins should go to the Arctic with Admiral Drake. The Admiral asks Mr. Popper to accompany him on his trip to the North Pole, fulfilling the latter’s dream to travel to the Arctic. Mr. Popper agrees, and he, the Admiral, and the penguins sail away on a ship to the North Pole as his family waves goodbye. He promises to return in a year or two.

The core themes of the novel are adventure, travel, resourcefulness, humor, pursuing one’s dreams, and appreciating and doing right by animals and nature. Although Mr. Popper does not make much money as a painter, he does not allow his modest financial means to constrain his big dreams and plans. In the end, he chooses his sense of adventure and concern for the penguins’ best interest over money.