Mr Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, illustrations by Robert Lawson 138 pp RL3
Written in 1938 and winner of the Newbery Honor, Mr Popper's Penguins remains a uniquely wonderful book. Mr Popper, husband to Mrs Popper and father to Janie and Bill, is a house painter with a passion for the Arctic and Antarctic. His living room is hung with pictures from National Geographic Magazine and he is always checking books out of the library on the subject. When Mr Popper sends a letter of admiration to Admiral Drake, the great explorer, he receives more than a friendly letter in return. He receives a large, wooden box containing a penguin that says, "Ork," and whom he names Captain Cook. The Atwater's descriptions of Captain Cook's behavior and the matter-of-fact way that the Poppers attend to him is brilliant, as are the crisp, expressive illustrations by Robert Lawson, author and illustrator of Rabbit Hill.
Captain Cook builds himself a rookery out of various odd objects found around the Popper house then begins a rapid decline as he pines for a love. Desperate to save him, Mr Popper writes another letter and that is how Greta comes to live with the Poppers. Captain Cook and Greta set up house in the icebox of the Popper's refrigerator, which causes Mrs Popper to complain, but soon winter comes and Bill and Janie are throwing open the windows and sledding in the house with the penguins. Of course, baby penguins follow as does Mr Popper's very creative solution to his shrinking income.
This book is a great read aloud, but is also one of the few great books written at this reading level and thus a good choice for a read alone.