Many of the requests I include on this blog are ones I’ve heard over the years, but it’s always fun to talk about requests that happen in real time (kind of). Last night a customer started our conversation with, “I’m looking for a book for a seven year old who is a very good reader. He can read on his own, but his parents also read to him” and then she listed some of the books they had recently read together: Swiss Family Robinson, The Phantom Tollbooth, Frog and Toad. I brought her to the appropriate sections and showed her Geronimo Stilton, The Enormous Egg, and My Father’s Dragon (a store favorite). She asked about Lemony Snicket. We discussed the pros and cons. I showed her the Puffin Classics spinner. I then left her to browse and she was there for quite some time. When I went to check on her later, she had Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater in her hand (Little, Brown, $6.99). Ahhh! How could I forget that one?!?!? I loved loved loved that book when I was seven. I must have read and reread it 5 or 6 times. I remember laughing till I cried at Captain Cook and Greta’s antics and there can be no doubt that the book is responsible for my life-long fascination with penguins and Antarctica. It was the perfect gift and I’m delighted that she chose it.
I can tell you exactly why I didn’t think of it, though. First, the last time I recommended it to one of our young customers, the girl (not more than 8) informed me that she had already seen the movie. *Not* having seen the movie, I can’t comment on how they compare, but it’s usually not about which one is better. Mostly kids want something new, not a story they are already familiar with (although I, admittedly, was and am a re-reader). Which brings me to the second reason I rarely recommend this book. It’s been around for so long, I forget that people might not be familiar with it. I should have known better, the books the customer first listed are also classics, although they haven’t recently been made into blockbuster movies. Nevertheless, the number of new books that are published each year is staggering and the backlist, comparably, is tiny, which means books like Mr. Popper’s Penguins (along with The Phantom Tollbooth and My Father’s Dragon) are still in print for a reason. They are good. Really good. And continue to be relevant, even though Mr. Popper’s form of entertainment is a weekly radio show. I need to remember that more often. And to remember that each generation of children is encountering these books for the first time. Lucky them.