Wednesday, November 7, 2007

We have three penguins living in our fridge

We have three penguins living in our fridge. They're named Captain Cook and Greta and "Baby Penguin", after the characters in Mr. Popper's Penguins. And they mark an important milestone in literacy. Mr. Popper's Penguins is the first chapter book that we've read aloud.

Since starting first grade, Tommy has to read for 20 minutes a night. He's a relatively fluent, but reluctant reader. So, we're keeping the books that we ask him to read simple. We've been through the entire series of insipid alphabet books: My Little 'a', My Little 'b', etc. The stories all begin the same way: "Little b (or a, or c, or d) had a box. Little b found some buttons (or ants or coats or dogs). She put her buttons (or ants or coats or dogs) in her box..." The plot doesn't get any more interesting than that, and it definitely does not improve with reading and re-reading. We've also been through the whole Clifford phonics reader series, whose only redeeming qualities are that Tommy is interested in them and they are easy to read.

But there is only so much of early, simple phonics readers that a mother can take. Enter Mr. Popper's Penguins. We had received it as a gift this summer, and it had gotten buried upon return. When I unearthed it this fall, a sense of relief came over me. I realized that Tommy had finally matured to the point where he could sit still long enough to listen to a chapter book. I wasn't doomed to early readers for the next two years!

And so our adventure began. Slowly reading a chapter every night or every other night, we were introduced to Mr. Popper, Mrs. Popper, Janie and Bill. As the chapters went on, we met Captain Cook, the penguin sent by Admiral Drake to Mr. Popper in Stillwater, and Greta, the penguin sent by a zoo where she had been languishing. Together Captain Cook and Greta started on a family and adventures.

I'm still not sure how much Tommy got of the plot, but he was getting some of the details. One day while we were driving in the car, he unearthed a toy penguin, a remnant of a Happy Meal. "Gok!" he said. "Mom, this is Captain Cook." Soon Greta (another Happy Meal toy) was found, and a baby penguin. They took up residence in the fridge, just like Captain Cook and Greta had. They live in the fridge during the day, and sometimes come out at night to sleep in the 'nest' under Tommy's bed. They get a bath weekly.

I'm pleased because our foray into chapter books has increased my interest in reading to the kids and it seems to be opening up new worlds of ideas and play. And I know that by reading chapter books, we're increasing vocabulary and literary skills.

Even without these side benefits, Captain Cook and Greta are enlivening the house. The other night, Tommy was watching Dad play computer games before he went to bed. Dad began to play a game called "Penguins". Tommy raced down the stairs, flung open the fridge, grabbed Captain Cook and Greta and raced back upstairs. He placed them carefully in front of the computer where they could see, and said "They've just got to see this!"


max said...

It's true, I grew up hating to read. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries especially for boys 8 - 13, who also may not like to read.

NEWSPAPER CAPER, TERROR AT WOLF LAKE, NORTH WOODS POACHERS, MOUNTAIN CABIN MYSTERY, BIG RIG RUSTLERS, SECRET OF ABBOTT'S CAVE & LEGEND OF THE WHITE WOLF, are compared by readers and reviewers to Tom Sawyer, The Hardy Boys, Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Scooby-Doo, Lemony Snicket, and adventure author Jack London.

My blog, Books for Boys, ranks in the top 5 on Yahoo and the top 20 on Google and you can find it at There you will also find links to my author's web site and another blog with 50 pages of reviews.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Thank you,

Max Elliot Anderson
Now, from an author who hated to read...comes books kids hate to put down.

Andy said...

Hi - from an MDC mama - a few recommendations for you:

Trumpet of the swan, Cricket in Times Square, the Magic Treehouse Series, Mrs. Pigglewiggle, oh there's this dragon one that is snappin cool...I'll try to remember the name. Utilize your local library if you can. You can give them specific ideas (pirates, teachers, etc.) and they'll search for you if they don't know off hand. Those are all books my bright but reluctant reader liked a lot. Also most of those (not Mrs. Pigglewiggle, but the others) are all on audio (tapes/cd's) which are great for car rides and illnesses. :D hth! Andy

La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

Swallows and Amazons--Ransome-- is a great summer read, too. We loved that book last summer. Plan to read the next one this coming summer.

la bibliotecaria laura

Stacy said...

Hi from another MDC mom.

I just sat down and read your entire blog. I find it absolutely fascinating. My son is 12 months old, and language is just starting to really bloom, which is so amazing to me (even moreso since we're a bilingual - english and spanish - house and I'm interested to see how the two languages are used).

I was wondering if you could recommend some books on this subject. I'd love to learn more - I find this so interesting!

Stacy said...

Hi from another MDC mom!

I just sat down and read your entire blog. I think it's amazing!

My son is 12 months old, and we're just starting to see him language really take off, which is so interesting to me. Even moreso because we're a bilingual (English and Spanish) household and I'm interested to see how he uses both languages as time goes by.

I was wondering if you could recommend some books on the subject. I find this stuff absolutely fascinating!

patrice said...

I remember Mr. Popper's Penguins! I LOVED that book! Though I'm pretty sure I was older when I read it - maybe 3rd or 4th grade. Wait. I don't know how old your son is. Anyhow, thanks for bringing back the memory. I also loved Mrs Pigglewiggle mentioned in a previous comment. Other ones I have a vague memory of being favorites: A Finn Family Moomintroll series, The Phantom Tollbooth, Arabel's Raven.

I'm looking forward to chapter books with my daughter (a couple years to go, i guess).