Mr. Popper’s Penguins

by Richard and Florence Atwater


Mr. Popper’s love of all things arctic brings multiple surprises into his family’s life, starting with a penguin.

Why I like this for a read aloud book:

*Mr. Popper doesn’t let circumstances stop him from dreaming and learning about what he loves
*Mr. Popper finds creative solutions for his problems
*Owning penguins is so much fun for Mr. Popper and his family

Family Fun

Mrs. Popper discovers that Captain Cook is very good at picking up. He searches over and under and finds all kinds of odds and ends. It sounds like a penguin scavenger hunt to me! Go on a Scavenger Hunt.

*Try to find the same things that Captain Cook found:

Two spools of thread
One white chess bishop
Six pieces of a jigsaw puzzle
A teaspoon
A closed box of safety matches
A radish
Two pennies
A nickel
A golf ball
Two pencil stubs
A bent playing card
A small ash tray
Five hairpins
An olive
Two dominoes
A sock
A nail file
Four buttons
A telephone slug
Seven marbles
A tiny doll’s chair
Five checkers
A bit of graham cracker
A parchesi cup
An eraser
A door key
A buttonhook
A crumpled piece of aluminum foil
Half a lemon
The head of a china doll
A soda cap
An inkbottle cork
Two screws
Mr. Popper’s pipe (that will be hard to find!)
A belt buckle
Six beads from a necklace
Five blocks
A darning egg
A bone
A small harmonica
A lollipop
Two toothpaste lids
A notebook

The Poppers needed to clean up! Search together to find as many items as you can. Substitute like items for things you don’t have. For example, use a plastic Easter egg instead of a darning egg.

Here are the things my listener and I found. See if you can figure out what we missed and what we substituted:
OR look under the sofa, between the cushions, behind the refrigerator, under the bed, and other such places to see what surprising things you might find in out-of-the-way places!

*For a more organized game, try this ABC Scavenger Hunt.

Write the letters of the alphabet in columns, making a copy for each player.
Define the area included in the ABC Scavenger Hunt. It could be only what you can see from where you are sitting, the entire house, an outside area, each person’s bedroom, or even your imagination! (For which you could give a theme that would define the area.)

Set a time limit and get started scavenging for an item beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

The first person to find an item for each letter is the winner. OR you could work on the hunt together and try to beat the clock.

The area around my desk was our defined area. Here is the beginning of what we found for our ABC Scavenger Hunt:

Music and Motion Fun

Mr. Popper builds an act around the tricks that the penguins do naturally–drill like an army, watch two of the penguins fight with each other, and climb steps and toboggan down. Create a Penguin Act.

Choreograph or go freestyle to march like a penguin, stage a fight, and climb and slide on your stomach.

*To march like a penguin keep your knees together and your elbows glued to your sides. March backward and forward, in a square, and all around the room.

*To fight like a penguin keep the same stance as for marching.

Mark an area on the floor with masking tape.
My square is about 3 1/2′ x 3 1/2′.

Try to push the other “penguin” out of the square. Keeping your elbows against your sides, you may only push with your “flippers” and shoulders. Remember to keep your knees together!

*To climb and slide like a penguin, pretend to climb a ladder, again keeping your knees together and your elbows against your sides. To slide, lie on your stomach on a slippery floor and push yourself along with your feet. OR pretend your first two fingers are a penguin and walk them up a ladder and slide down the other side.

Of course you need music for each part of the act. For marching, Mrs. Popper played “The Military March.”


For fighting, Mrs. Popper played “The Merry Widow Waltz.”


For the climbing and sliding, Mrs. Popper played “By the Brook” which starts at 1:15.


Use only as much music as you want for each part. Or pick your own music. Or create an act that fits your family instead of the penguins. Just have fun with music and motion!

Fun Penguin Facts

*Penguins have a hook on the end of their bill that helps them catch food.
*They also have backward facing bristles on their tongues so slippery food doesn’t slide out of their mouths.
*They eat fish, squid, and krill.
*Penguins drink saltwater.
*They have a gland that removes the salt and pushes it out the grooves in their bills.
*Some penguins use rocks to make their nests. The perfect rock may be hard to find and they often steal rocks from each other as seen here:

(Look carefully and you can see the bristled tongue of the first penguin when he picks up a rock.)
*Penguins lay one or two eggs.
*Fathers help keep the eggs warm while mothers hunt for food.
*Penguins spend as much as 75% of their time in water.
*They don’t fly in the air, but with their torpedo shaped bodies and wings as propellers, they “fly” in the water.
*Penguins can leap out of the water to catch a breath or to jump up onto an ice floe.
*Penguins stay warm with a layer of blubber, two layers of feathers, and oil from a gland that helps water and windproof them.
*Penguins’ black and white coloring is camouflage. When they are swimming, their black backs blend in with the dark water to birds from above, and their white stomachs blend with the sky and ice above to the seals in the water looking up.
*Penguins enjoy  jumping into the water.

*Penguins live in large groups and they mate for life.

Reading Reinforcement

*Mr. Popper is described as being spattered with paint and calcimine. What is calcimine? It was used on plaster. We don’t hear much about it anymore because most houses have drywall now instead of plaster.

*Mr. Popper was a dreamer. What did he dream about? What do you dream about? Much of Mr. Popper’s dream came true. What did he do to make his dreams come true? What do you need to do to make your dreams come true?

*Mr. Popper wished he was a scientist. Why? His greatest regret was that he had never seen the expanses of ice and snow at the poles. (Fortunately because his dream came true, he didn’t have any regrets!) What would you regret not doing? How can you make sure that you are able to do it?

*Do you think Mr. and Mrs. Popper loved each other? Give evidence from the book to support your answer.

*Mrs. Popper is always worried about money. Mr. Popper is never worried about money. Why? Should he be worried about it?

*This book was published in 1938. There had been some South Pole exploration, but many people were not familiar with arctic animals. The policeman didn’t know about penguins, Mrs. Callahan asked if Captain Cook was an anteater, and the reporters thought the penguins were pelicans. Could that happen now? Do you think there are animals in the world that many of us wouldn’t know or recognize now? How could that be?

*Foreshadowing is a hint or clue beforehand to lead the reader to something that will happen later. In the second chapter Mr. Popper says, “…all penguins live at the South Pole. I should think the penguins would like the North Pole, too, if they only knew how to get there.” That is the foreshadowing hint. What event later in the book does that statement foreshadow?

*Why did Admiral Drake send Mr. Popper a penguin? Would that happen now? Why or why not? (Admiral Drake is a fictitious character. There was an admiral, Sir Francis Drake, who lived in the 1500’s, but the one in this book is not based on a real person.)

*Why was Mr. Popper so well-prepared to care for a penguin?

*Do you have a pet? Mr. Popper thought having a penguin for a pet would be nice. What challenges did Mr. Popper face with his pet? What challenges does your pet (or your dream pet) cause? What makes the work of pet care worth it to you?

*Mr. Popper tried to get a license for Captain Cook, but no one seemed to know what to do. Why did he hang up when he was connected with the Automotive License Bureau?

*Mr. Popper shaved and put on a suit “in honor of being the owner of such a splendid bird as Captain Cook.” What do you get spiffed up for?

*”Mr. Popper’s heart was frozen with terror” because Captain Cook was sick and dying. Does it seem right to you that the curator from Mammoth City sent his sick penguin to Mr. Popper? Why or why not?

*Mr. Popper left the windows open and flooded the floor with water to become ice. Would your mom let your dad do that? What things does your family do that other families might think is crazy? (We like to read ALL the information about each animal at the zoo or each item at the museum. Other families don’t like to go with us because it takes us so long to visit such places.)

*Mrs. Popper tells Mr. Popper that they have no money. She suggests eating or selling the penguins. Why is Mr. Popper’s solution not only more humane, but more practical, and a more long-term solution?

*Mrs. Popper wanted the house to be clean before they left on their ten week tour. She didn’t want to leave things “at sixes and sevens.” What does that mean? Do you clean house before you go on vacation? I have a listener who loves to come home to a clean house–even though he doesn’t love to clean it!

*Would you like to be one of the performers the same night as the penguins? Why or why not? Why didn’t the other performers want to be there with the penguins?

*Admiral Drake is impressed with what Mr. Popper has done with the penguins. He says it “shows what patience and training can do.” What can you learn with patience and training? Or what can you teach your pet with patience and training? How is patience an important part of training?

*When the movie maker offers the Poppers a fortune, Mrs. Popper says, “I don’t want to live on Easy Street. I want to go back to Proudfoot Avenue.” Do you think she made the right choice? Why would she prefer her old house to Easy Street?

*Did you guess what Mr. Popper would decide was best for the penguins? Is that what you would have decided?

*Were you surprised that Admiral Drake invited Mr. Popper to join the expedition? Mr. Popper was surprised, but he had studied, worked, and prepared. Even though he never expected to go to the pole, the opportunity didn’t randomly fall in his lap.

*Do you like the ending? Would you like to be away from home for a couple years? That’s a long time!


Find this book at your local library or buy it here.