By Florence Atwater
Read by Nick Sullivan
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Mr. Popper’s Penguins is one of the handful of American books for children that has attained the status of a classic. A humble house painter is sent a male penguin by the great Admiral Drake and, thanks to the arrival of a female penguin, soon has twelve penguins living in his house. First published in 1938, Mr. Popper’s Penguins has amused and enchanted generations of children and their parents.
IT WAS AN afternoon in late September. In the pleasant little city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work.
He was carrying his buckets, his ladders, and his boards so that he had rather a hard time moving along. He was spattered here and there with paint and calcimine, and there were bits of wallpaper clinging to his hair and whiskers, for he was rather an untidy man.
The children looked up from their play to smile at him as he passed, and the housewives, seeing him, said, “Oh dear, there goes Mr. Popper. I must remember to ask John to have the house painted over in the spring.”
No one knew what went on inside of Mr. Popper’s head, and no one guessed that he would one day be the most famous person in Stillwater.
He was a dreamer. Even when he was busiest smoothing down the paste on the wallpaper, or painting the outside of other people’s houses, he would forget what he was doing. Once he had painted three sides of a kitchen green, and the other side yellow. The housewife, instead of being angry and making him do it over, had liked it so well that she had made him leave it that way. And all the other housewives, when they saw it, admired it too, so that pretty soon everybody in Stillwater had two-colored kitchens.
The reason Mr. Popper was so absent-minded was that he was always dreaming about far-away countries. He had never been out of Stillwater. Not that he was unhappy. He had a nice little house of his own, a wife whom he loved dearly, and two children, named Janie and Bill. Still, it would have been nice, he often thought, if he could have seen something of the world before he met Mrs. Popper and settled down. He had never hunted tigers in India, or climbed the peaks of the Himalayas, or dived for pearls in the South Seas. Above all, he had never seen the Poles.
That was what he regretted most of all. He had never seen those great shining white expanses of ice and snow. How he wished that he had been a scientist, instead of a house painter in Stillwater, so that he might have joined some of the great Polar expeditions. Since he could not go, he was always thinking about them.
Whenever he heard that a Polar movie was in town, he was the first person at the ticket-window, and often he sat through three shows. Whenever the town library had a new book about the Arctic or the Antarctic — the North Pole or the South Pole — Mr. Popper was the first to borrow it. Indeed, he had read so much about Polar explorers that he could name all of them and tell you what each had done. He was quite an authority on the subject.
His evenings were the best time of all. Then he could sit down in his little house and read about those cold regions at the top and bottom of the earth. As he read he could take the little globe that Janie and Bill had given him the Christmas before, and search out the exact spot he was reading about.
So now, as he made his way through the streets, he was happy because the day was over, and because it was the end of September.
When he came to the gate of the neat little bungalow at 432 Proudfoot Avenue, he turned in.
“Well, my love,” he said, setting down his buckets and ladders and boards, and kissing Mrs. Popper, “the decorating season is over. I have painted all the kitchens in Stillwater; I have papered all the rooms in the new apartment building on Elm Street. There is no more work until spring, when people will want their houses painted.”
Mrs. Popper sighed. “I sometimes wish you had the kind of work that lasted all year, instead of just from spring until fall,” she said. “It will be very nice to have you at home for a vacation, of course, but it is a little hard to sweep with a man sitting around reading all day.”
“I could decorate the house for you.”
“No, indeed,” said Mrs. Popper firmly. “Last year you painted the bathroom four different times, because you had nothing else to do, and I think that is enough of that. But what worries me is the money. I have saved a little, and I daresay we can get along as we have other winters. No more roast beef, no more ice cream, not even on Sundays.”
“Shall we have beans every day?” asked Janie and Bill, coming in from play.
“I’m afraid so,” said Mrs. Popper. “Anyway, go wash your hands, for supper. And Papa, put away this litter of paints, because you won’t be needing them for quite a while.”
The Voice in the Air
THAT EVENING, WHEN THE little Poppers had been put to bed, Mr. and Mrs. Popper settled down for a long, quiet evening. The neat living room at 432 Proudfoot Avenue was much like all the other living rooms in Stillwater, except that the walls were hung with pictures from the National Geographic Magazine. Mrs. Popper picked up her mending, while Mr. Popper collected his pipe, his book, and his globe.
From time to time Mrs. Popper sighed a little as she thought about the long winter ahead. Would there really be enough beans to last, she wondered.
Mr. Popper was not worried, however. As he put on his spectacles, he was quite pleased at the prospect of a whole winter of reading travel books, with no work to interrupt him. He set his little globe beside him and began to read.
“What are you reading?” asked Mrs. Popper.
“I am reading a book called Antarctic Adventures. It is very interesting. It tells all about the different people who have gone to the South Pole and what they have found there.”
“Don’t you ever get tired of reading about the South Pole?”
“No, I don’t. Of course I would much rather go there than read about it. But reading is the next best thing.”
“I think it must be very boring down there,” said Mrs. Popper. “It sounds very dull and cold, with all that ice and snow.”
“Oh, no,” answered Mr. Popper. “You wouldn’t think it was dull if you had gone with me to see the movies of the Drake Expedition at the Bijou last year.”
“Well, I didn’t, and I don’t think any of us will have any money for movies now,” answered Mrs. Popper, a little sharply. She was not at all a disagreeable woman, but she sometimes got rather cross when she was worried about money.
“If you had gone, my love,” went on Mr. Popper, “you would have seen how beautiful the Antarctic is. But I think the nicest part of all is the penguins. No wonder all the men on that expedition had such a good time playing with them. They are the funniest birds in the world. They don’t fly like other birds. They walk erect like little men. When they get tired of walking they just lie down on their stomachs and slide. It would be very nice to have one for a pet.”
“Pets!” said Mrs. Popper. “First it’s Bill wanting a dog and then Janie begging for a kitten. Now you and penguins! But I won’t have any pets around. They make too much dirt in the house, and I have enough work now, trying to keep this place tidy. To say nothing of what it costs to feed a pet. Anyway, we have the bowl of goldfish.”
“Penguins are very intelligent,” continued Mr. Popper. “Listen to this, Mamma. It says here that when they want to catch some shrimps, they all crowd over to the edge of an ice bank. Only they don’t just jump in, because a sea leopard might be waiting to eat the penguins. So they crowd and push until they manage to shove one penguin off, to see if it’s safe. I mean if he doesn’t get eaten up, the rest of them know it’s safe for them all to jump in.”
“Dear me!” said Mrs. Popper in a shocked tone. “They sound to me like pretty heathen birds.”
“It’s a queer thing,” said Mr. Popper, “that all the polar bears live at the North Pole and all the penguins at the South Pole. I should think the penguins would like the North Pole, too, if they only knew how to get there.”
At ten o’clock Mrs. Popper yawned and laid down her mending. “Well, you can go on reading about those heathen birds, but I am going to bed. Tomorrow is Thursday, September thirtieth, and I have to go to the first meeting of the Ladies’ Aid and Missionary Society.”
“September thirtieth!” said Mr. Popper in an excited tone. “You don’t mean that tonight is Wednesday, September twenty-ninth?”
“Why, yes, I suppose it is. But what of it?”
Mr. Popper put down his book of Antarctic Adventures and moved hastily to the radio.
“What of it!” he repeated, pushing the switch. “Why, this is the night the Drake Antarctic Expedition is going to start broadcasting.”
“That’s nothing,” said Mrs. Popper. “Just a lot of men at the bottom of the world saying ‘Hello, Mamma. Hello, Papa.’ ”
“Sh!” commanded Mr. Popper, laying his ear close to the radio.
There was a buzz, and then suddenly, from the South Pole, a faint voice floated out into the Popper living room.
“This is Admiral Drake speaking. Hello, Mamma. Hello, Papa. Hello, Mr. Popper.”
“Gracious goodness,” exclaimed Mrs. Popper. “Did he say ‘Papa’ or ‘Popper’?”
“Hello, Mr. Popper, up there in Stillwater. Thanks for your nice letter about the pictures of our last expedition. Watch for an answer. But not by letter, Mr. Popper. Watch for a surprise. Signing off. Signing off.”
“You wrote to Admiral Drake?”
“Yes, I did,” Mr. Popper admitted. “I wrote and told him how funny I thought the penguins were.”
- On Sale
- Apr 1, 2009
- Hachette Audio