You may have seen the movie previews for Mr. Popper’s penguins starring Jim Carrey, but you may not know that the movie is based on a 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater. Though “based on” seems to be a big stretch in the case of this particular movie. And as I’ve been remiss in never reading the book, I decided to pick up a copy to read to my children before we went out to see the movie. It’s one of the rules in our house: you can’t see a movie that’s based on a book unless you’ve read the book first. It’s one reason my daughter has only seen the first two Harry Potter movies. She is desperately making her way through book 3 in the hopes of catching up to the Lego toys that she has based on the movies.
We started reading on Sunday night, and the language is old-fashioned as are the traditional male/female roles, e.g. “Mrs. Popper picked up her mending, while Mr. Popper collected his pipe, his book, and his globe.” So I expected that I’d be in for a lot of explaining to the kids what things were and why they were described that way, but once the story took off (right on page one) there were barely any questions. Because what’s great about a classic piece of literature is that despite the unfamiliar phrasing, and some old-fashioned vocabulary the story still comes through. I’m surprised at how easily my kids get the humor of Mr. and Mrs. Popper, and the ridiculousness of the happenings at 432 Proudfoot Avenue. And it’s a lesson for me as well, in how to write a great, humorous story that keeps kids laughing.
After two days, we’re already on chapter 7 and the only thing wrong with this book is that we hadn’t read it sooner. Let’s see if the movie is even close.