Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Calling 911

Every day of chapter reading is an adventure; a roller coaster of wonder, laughter, and even sadness.  Reading the words aloud to children without any pictures means that we stop to talk and ask questions.

As children hear the words, their brains are in “flux capacitor” mode.  With only words to hear, the brain has to work overtime to make a mental picture, and more importantly process the story.  That means thinking, reasoning, and asking questions.  All in a moment.

That’s what happens every day at chapter reading.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is our current chapter reading book, and a favorite. We’re close to the end.  Mr. Popper and his penguins have been sent to jail. They caused chaos in the wrong theater with Swen Swenson and his trained seals.  The penguins were disturbers of the peace.  The police and firemen (firefighters was not a word back in 1938) were called.  When they arrived at the scene, it was humorous with the police taking sides with the seals and the firemen taking sides with the penguins.  Chaos escalated, and ended with Mr. Popper and his penguins going to jail.

That prompted quite a discussion with children.  It went something like this:

Child: “Who called the fire department?”

Me: “Janie did.  Remember?  She’s Mr. Popper’s daughter.”

Child: “Did she call 911?”

Me:  “No.  There was no 911 back then.  She picked up the telephone and dialed the number for the fire department.”

Child:  “Was there a fire?”

Me:  “No, just confusion.”

Child:  “But, if you call the fire department and there’s no fire, you get in big trouble.”

Child:  “When do you go to jail?”

Child:  “If you told the police the wrong thing.”

Child:  “If somebody gets hurt and tells the policeman the wrong truth.”

Child:  “If you don’t tell the police the truth and you lie to them.”

Child:  “If you would do something bad to someone, like shoot them.”

I listened as children sorted through right and wrong, good and bad, and that fine line over punishment- jail.  This was tricky.  I was adding gray to their black and white world.  Wrong doesn’t always mean you go to jail, yet wrong is still a terrible thing.

Silence.  Mental wheels were turning.  Sponges were soaking up words and sorting them out.

The child who initiated the discussion, asking about calling the fire department, spoke up.  She was not only listening and learning, she was remembering the day she accidently pushed the 911 button on the telephone in her house.  She told us the story.  And, she told us she did not go to jail.

This prompted another question.

Child:  “How does fire get into your house?”

We talked about the kitchen stove, and electricity, and lightening.  We remembered when firefighters came to visit and dressed in all their gear so we wouldn’t be afraid of them.  We talked about what to do, and being safe.

Then, we went back to reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  How will Mr. Popper and the birds get out of jail?  Tomorrow we’ll find out when we read aloud, and I will be ready for what questions may come our way.  The roller coaster of reading aloud is a thrilling ride.

Discovering the South Pole and penguins.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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88 Responses to Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Calling 911

  1. Oh so loved the discussion that resulted from this Book Jennie… I have said it before and I will say it again.. I so wish you had been my teacher.. 😀

  2. A. L. Kaplan says:

    Wonderful discussion.

  3. beetleypete says:

    They already know so much about the emergency services! When I was an EMT, and later worked for the Police in London, I wish the British adults had known as much about of abuse of the emergency number (999 here) as your youngsters do, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, children are sophisticated in many ways. I’m glad they still need to understand and be reminded of the basics of right and wrong. You can never get enough reminders. When it happens unexpectedly, I latch on. Best to you, Pete.

  4. Great discussion! We’re almost done with the book too. They’re on the road now and are a huge hit!

  5. willedare says:

    The conversation that this chapter inspired is wonderful to read!!! Thank you for all you do with your students AND then making the time to share some of what unfolds in your classroom with us!

  6. Ah, Jennie, you are a gem. If you called 911 where I live, no one would come. We have to rely on private security services.

  7. A wonderful discussion, Jennie, but what is most important is the fact that you paused and took the time for the children to share their concerns and ideas. I know, that is the norm for the Aqua Room, but unfortunately that is the case in so many classrooms. As I’ve said many times your children are so fortunate to have you for their teacher! – Susan

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Susan. I think/know that most teachers don’t take the time to stop and let the children ask questions. Without an open discussion, the full effect of reading aloud is squashed. Recently, I was telling a fellow teacher about reading John Howe’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack’s mother said, “Jack, you stupid boy!” Before I had a chance to tell her how that was a great way to open a discussion on meanness and kindness, she jumped in and asked, “Jennie, you didn’t read that to the children. Right?” She didn’t get it. I am constantly championing. Sorry to ramble on, Susan. I’m so glad you understand. Many thanks! 🙂

  8. Darlene says:

    Another great book to read aloud. I love the questions the children come up with.

  9. What a fabulous book that must be for children, Jennie. Even more fun reading to them in such a setting. Huge hugs.

  10. Great experience for these kids. I think Sue has it right. I wish you had been my teacher as well.

  11. You make book reading a deep learning experience. I’m with Sue DW. Things were so different even when my children were in school. My daughter got in trouble with her teacher because she said my daughter was growing books in her desk. Every time the teacher would confiscate one, my daughter slipped another inside her text book. Of course she had already worked her way through the text before the end of the first month of school. My kids still read that way and always, always ask questions. You are a unique breed of teacher.

  12. What a great discussion, Jennie, and just wait until they grow up and find out how it really doesn’t work! Lol

  13. Gotta love penguins! 😄🐧❤

  14. illuminare18 says:

    This is wonderful. You are an awesome teacher!

  15. dgkaye says:

    Amazing how much these kids get from a story, opening up great discussions about safety and the right and wrong way to handle situations. Brilliant! 🙂

  16. macjam47 says:

    What a wonderful teacher you are. I enjoyed listening in on the children’s discussion. I am sure they learned a lot, as did you.

  17. reocochran says:

    You are amazing in how you explain situations without alarming your students. 😊
    I used to love Mr. Popper’s Penguins, my kids used to enjoy the book, too. We move on as we grow up, but some books bring back fond memories and this is one of our favorite books! 🌈
    I’m excited about another favorite going into movie form: “A Wrinkle in Time.” ☁🌠☁🌠

  18. frenchc1955 says:

    What a wonderful teacher you are!!!

  19. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is a wonderful blogpost from a remarkable teacher, Jennie.

  20. One of my favorite books to read aloud. I love the questions and comments.

  21. This is so adorable, Jennie, Thank you for posting.

  22. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    Jennie, this is brilliant and thank you for posting. This is how children learn as you explained. Questions engage children to think, make decisions, and see the gray between the black and white.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Karen!

      • Jennie, my pleasure and you are welcome. Do you suppose that adults can also learn or relearn these important lessons in critical thinking skills, like in our congress? ,,,,just kidding, but may not. What important life lessons can be learned from children and a great teacher! Karen 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        I really believe that the fundamentals are grounded in childhood. The old adage that you can’t change the spots on a leopard is true, until the leopard is open to change. Can an adult learn or relearn? Yes! Life lessons and critical thinking are a natural part of my teaching. It’s an enormous responsibility and challenge that I embrace every day. Lucky me. 🙂

      • Jennie, you are such a gift to all and especially to all those you teach, young and old. I look forward to reading your story. So exciting! Karen 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        Thanks for your kind words, Karen! Will email it to you after work. 🙂

  23. Great discussion. It must be a fun surprise to hear where each day’s topic will end up.

  24. Ellen Hawley says:

    “The wrong truth”? I love that.

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