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About Richard Atwater
In 1932, Richard Atwater and his wife, Florence, took their two daughters to see a documentary film about Richard E. Byrd’s Antarctic expedition. Mr. Atwater was very impressed by the movie, and he decided to write a book about the penguins from Antarctica. When one of his daughters objected to children’s books about history, he started to write a magical story about a group of penguins, which would later become Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
Richard Tupper Atwater was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1892. He studied at the University of Chicago and taught Greek there while in graduate school. He later went on to work as a writer for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers. Florence Hasseltine Carroll was born in 1896 in Chicago, Illinois. She also obtained two degrees at the University of Chicago, where her Classical Greek teacher was a young man named Richard Atwater! They married in 1921. Florence taught high school French, English, and Latin, and she also wrote a number of articles for the New Yorker and the Atlantic.
Richard’s first children’s book was Doris and the Trolls, about two children who follow a cat named Mitzi to a land of mischievous trolls to rescue the Ting Tang Fairy. His second was a children’s operetta called The King’s Sneezes. In it, the Fiddlers Three have been sent to the dungeon for laughing when King Nicholas sneezes, and it’s up to young Max Luckyfoot to cure him.
Richard had completed a manuscript called Ork! The Story of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, when he suffered a severe stroke in 1934 and was forced to stop writing. He lived until 1948, but could never write again. So Florence took over.
After two publishers rejected the book, Florence rewrote the story, keeping many parts the same but adding more realistic events. (In the version written by Richard Atwater, Mr. Popper draws a penguin on a mirror with shaving cream and it comes to life!) The revised manuscript was accepted and published in 1938.
Florence lived until the age of eighty-three and died in 1979. Mr. Popper’s Penguins remained a bestselling book throughout her lifetime, and has enchanted children and adults for over seventy years. It has won many awards, including the Newbery Honor, and has been translated into many languages.
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