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It's been years and years since the Popper family lived in Stillwater, but the town is still riding high on its former penguin residents. Across the river, in Hillport, residents try to re-create the magic with penguin carnival rides and penguin petting zoos, pretending they're the Popper originals. As the years have gone by, fewer and fewer people have come, and the small attractions shuttered.
Nina and Joe Popper have just moved to Hillport with their mother. There's a lot to do: unpacking, scrubbing the floors, investigating the basement—wait, what's this? Two penguin eggs are tucked snugly near the furnace!
It's up to Nina and Joe to find their newly hatched penguin chicks a home. Setting off on the adventure of a lifetime, they endure perilous storms, a long journey to the Arctic, and of course, penguins. Lots and lots of Popper penguins!
EACH YEAR, STILLWATER held the Popper parade, when everyone would gather to acknowledge the city’s most famous residents. Grown-ups took the day off work. No children had to go to classes.
There was good reason to celebrate the Poppers. Mr. Popper had once been an ordinary house painter. But he’d fallen in love with penguins and let his favorite explorer know. Then, one September thirtieth, he’d received a penguin, sent express mail straight from the Antarctic by Admiral Drake himself!
That now-famous penguin, Captain Cook, was soon followed by another, Greta. Once there were a male and female penguin in the house, there were eggs and chicks. The Poppers soon hosted twelve penguins and became very famous after they started up a traveling theatrical act.
From then on, September thirtieth was Stillwater’s Popper parade day. The local children would take the bus to school as usual, but they’d cluster in the schoolyard instead of going to classes. There, they donned their best penguin costumes, which they had worked hard on in art class. Some looked very accurate. Some looked more like skunks or hamsters.
The adults in the town arrived next, dressed like the Poppers or the other characters from the family’s adventure—Mrs. Callahan, Mr. Greenbaum, even Admiral Drake himself! Everyone would have great fun wearing elegant clothes from the 1930s. Then, with the high school marching band blaring away, they all proceeded around town. The kids went first, doing their best impressions of a penguin waddle. The group trundled past the former Popper home at 432 Proudfoot Avenue, past the barber shop and the Palace Theater. The procession finished at the great city square, where news crews came from all over the country to film the merriment.
In the square were copper statues of all twelve Popper Penguins: Captain Cook, Greta, Columbus, Victoria, Nelson, Jenny, Magellan, Adelina, Scott, Isabella, Ferdinand, and Louisa. In the center of those birds were statues of the Poppers and their children. It made quite an image for the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Confetti and ribbons, penguins and Poppers! It was the highlight of every year in Stillwater.
Across the river, in Hillport, it was quite a different story.
AFTER PASSING THROUGH the neat boulevards of Stillwater, the moving truck rumbled past the low houses and blinking billboards of Hillport. The town had every kind of penguin attraction imaginable. There were penguin petting zoos, penguin gift shops, even a penguin waterslide. The truck eventually came to a stop in front of a sagging building. Light bulbs traced the words Penguin Pavilion out front, but not a single bulb was lit, despite the dark evening. The front door of the broken-down petting zoo was boarded up, and the electricity was shut off.
“We’re going to live here, Mom?” Joel asked, rubbing the car window with his sleeve so he could see better. He didn’t mean his words to sound as negative as they did.
“Is there even any power?” asked his little sister, Nina, from the middle seat of the moving truck.
“I have a call in to the electric company,” their mother said. “They’ll have it back on as soon as they can. Come on, kids, I need you to be flexible and understanding for a few days.”
“Are there really going to be penguins living inside?” Nina asked, climbing over Joel so she could press her face against the fogged side window. She wiped it with her hand, but her breath immediately fogged it right back up. Joel could see what had caught her attention. Wood cutouts of penguins wearing overalls danced along the outside of the house. A sign below said, PENGUIN VISITS: $5. (PETTING EXTRA. MARKET PRICING.)
“No penguins here anymore,” their mother said, turning off the truck before rummaging through her bag. Her hand emerged with a battered envelope, which she shook until a single tarnished key dropped into her palm. “Are you ready to go check out our new home?”
“I wish there really were penguins inside,” Nina grumbled. “That would make this move worth it.”
Joel rubbed the top of her head. “I hear they’re actually smelly and cranky. Maybe it’s better that we just see them at the zoo, behind glass.”
“They wouldn’t be smelly and cranky to me,” Nina protested. “We’d be friends!”
The kids followed their mother along the house’s front path. Fading signs promised PENGUIN FEED: $2 and PENGUIN PORTRAITS: 4 FOR $4. “This was a penguin petting zoo,” their mother explained. “The owners had hoped to make some money from the crowds that came to Stillwater each year to celebrate the Popper story. It’s been a very long time since the original Popper Penguins lived in Stillwater, though, and even fewer people come to Hillport each year. The bank foreclosed the Penguin Pavilion, which is why I was able to afford it.”
“And the Popper Penguins are part of your history, too, right?” Joel asked. “Which is why we have Popper as our last name?”
“In a way,” she said. “But I’m a very distant relation. I never lived in Stillwater or Hillport, so this is as new to me as it is to you kids.”
“What does ‘foreclosed’ mean?” Nina whispered to Joel, while their mother worked to fit the key into the lock.
“I think it means it was closed four times already,” Joel said wisely. “That’s what makes it cheap enough for Mom to afford.”
The front door creaked open. As soon as it did, Nina raced past, her voice reverberating through the halls. “I call this bedroom. No, wait, I call this one instead! You can have that first one!”
Joel didn’t much care which room he got. He hung back near his mother, worried by how drawn she looked. It had been a very long drive through bad weather. “Here, Mom,” he said, taking her heavy handbag from her and placing it on top of the mantelpiece. “Should I go start unpacking the truck?”
“We can do all that tomorrow,” his mom said. She patted the bandanna she always wore over her hair, spattered with paints from her latest canvas. She was a wonderful painter, though she could never seem to settle on any one subject. Some of the tiredness lifted from her eyes. “Nina has the right idea. Let’s go explore the house!”
Then she was off, tracking down Nina. Joel closed the front door, made sure the dead bolt was secure, then ran upstairs to join his mother and sister.
The house might have been cheap, but there was a reason. Its previous owners kept penguins here (which was, of course, awesome), but they had clearly not been into housekeeping. Even in the dim reflected light from the streetlamps outside, Joel could see the grime on the walls, and dust and wrappers piled up in the corners. His mother stood in the middle of a cramped kitchen, already working on the faucet, which was spraying out water. When she saw Joel, she gave a tight smile. “At least we know we have running water! Don’t worry, we’ll get this place cleaned up in no time.”
“I’m sure we will, Mom,” Joel said, nodding.
“Okay, this one is definitely my room—no, wait, this one!” Nina yelled from upstairs. “There’s so many options!”
“You’d better go pick your own bedroom before your sister takes all of them,” Mrs. Popper said.
Joel nodded and headed upstairs.
It was a quick choice. Joel let Nina pick whichever room made her happy and then selected the one next door to make life simple. “Come on, it’s late and we’ve got a long day tomorrow,” he said to his little sister. “We should go down and unpack our sheets and toothbrushes, at least.”
Nina bounded down the stairs. “Ooh, look, a basement!”
“Let’s go unpack, Nina!” Joel called down into the dark. “We can explore the basement tomorrow.”
“You have to see this!” she called up. “Amazing! Wow! Bring a flashlight!”
Grumbling, Joel unclipped the flashlight from his belt (he was always prepared for emergencies) and headed down the creaking stairs. There were signs hanging from the ceiling above each step:
Get ready to pet!
Penguin Pavilion main attraction!
Come meet penguins just like Captain Cook and Greta!
Buy your tickets upstairs!
“This must be where they kept the penguins,” he called to his sister as he stepped off the stairs and onto the cool, dank floor.
“Yes, definitely!” Nina said. “Let’s take a look around.”
Joel shone the flashlight around the walls. Ice caps and glaciers were painted on each surface, with rough representations of penguins and polar bears playing together in the distance. “Polar bears live in the Arctic,” he said to Nina, “and penguins are in the Antarctic. Totally different poles. And they definitely wouldn’t play together. Or wear these silly Santa hats.”
“They’re just paintings,” Nina said, poking around the edges of the room. “I wish the penguins were still here. I’ve never met a penguin before.”
Joel sniffed. “It still smells like birds. And old fish.”
Nina took a big sniff, too. “I like the smell. Come here and shine the light on these gigant-o machines!”
Along one wall were what looked like big air conditioners. “These are probably how they kept the room cold.”
“Do you think they turn on?” Nina asked.
“Of course they do. But we don’t have any power,” Joel replied, crossing his arms. “And we don’t need to freeze this room if there are no penguins in it anymore. Electricity is expensive.”
Nina disappeared around the back of one of the cooling devices. “There’s a space back here. I can almost fit—wait, what’s that? Whoa, I almost crushed it!”
“Crushed what?” Joel asked, shining the flashlight on his sister. He couldn’t see what she’d found, though. Her body was casting a shadow over it.
“Hold on—there’s another one!” Nina turned around, with something in each hand.
“What are those?” Joel asked.
She worked her way out from behind the coolers. She was speechless as she lifted her hands up into the light.
It was very unusual for Nina to be speechless.
But in an instant, Joel could see why.
Cradled in each hand was an egg. They were grayish and faintly speckled and too big to be chicken eggs.
They had to be penguin eggs.
NINA AND JOEL BUILD A NEST
“KIDS?” MRS. POPPER
- "Quite delightful."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Bringing a contemporary conscience to its predecessor, the wholesome book champions respect for animals and environmental issues within the structure of a satisfying family adventure."—Publishers Weekly
- "There are plenty of affectionate callbacks to the original Popper tale, but Schrefer's story is an entertaining adventure of its own. It's a joy to have Popper penguins back to play."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Oct 13, 2020
- Page Count
- 176 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers