Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Children’s books hold a special place in my heart. I love the fantastical stories they come up with, the whimsical, ridiculous ideas they present as ordinary, everyday facts. Ideas that would make an adult scoff and say, That would never happen, but would make a child sigh and say, I wish I had a penguin living in my refrigerator.

Not that I, at any point in time, wished for a penguin in my refrigerator.

I would, of course, never do that.



Children understand the concept of what if far better than adults do, I think. They are much less likely to shoot down a book about a boy who flies, or a magical wardrobe, or, even, a penguin in a refrigerator. I am so thankful for those adults whose wonder and whimsy and child-like imagination has survived the gauntlet of adulthood. While the world is insisting on teaching children the meaning of the word, Impossible, those books are there to whisper what if.

We need that.

One of the loveliest children’s books that I have ever come across, and one that I read over and over again as a child, is Mr. Popper’s Penguins. This wonderful little book is the story of Mr. Popper, a house painter who sat at home at night with his globe, his pipe, and a book on Antarctic adventures. Mr. Popper had always regretted his rather dull existence as a house painter and wished he’d been a great explorer like Captain Cook or Admiral Drake.

But it’s hard to explore the Poles and work a day job at the same time.

So Mr. Popper has to content himself with studying Antarctica, reading the National Geographic Magazine, and writing to his heroes in hopes of getting a reply. And one day, he does get a reply, in the form of a very large box shipped to his front door, complete with air holes and handle with care labels attached.

And inside this box is—a penguin.

(Are you beginning to understand about the penguin in the refrigerator yet?)


Mr. Popper is delighted with his new pet, and the escapades that Captain Cook, as the penguin is quickly named, lead him and his family on spark a delightful and hilarious chain of events. Of course, no penguin is happy alone. They are social little animals, after all. So in the end, Mr. Popper ends up with not one, but twelve penguins waddling after him and causing havoc on buses, trains, in hotels and theaters, and finally, on a ship sailing for the North Pole.

This charming book is just the sort to make a practical mind scoff. It is impossible, impractical, and absolutely, spectacularly ridiculous. It is a book that, a lovely, brilliant way, asks the ever important question . . . What If.

In my opinion, the world would be a better place with more books in it like Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

Mr. Popper soon found that it was not so easy to take a penguin for a stroll.


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