The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Heartwarming. Captivating. But also thought-provoking. A beautiful story about a man who finds a penguin after an oil spill on a beach in South America. The Penguin Lessons from Tom Michell is a wonderful book. The author shares his story with a very special penguin he encountered. Although I was a little bit concerned at first - as I thought this book might encourage other people to keep penguins as pets - this book is far away from encouraging people to do this.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Title: The Penguin Lessons
Author: Tom Michell
Imprint: Penguin
Length: 240 pages
Published: 2016
Language: English


The unique, moving and heartwarming true story of an unlikely friendship which captured imaginations around the world...

Tom Michell is in his roaring twenties: single, free-spirited and seeking adventure. He has a plane ticket to South America, a teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school, and endless summer holidays.

What he doesn't need is a pet. What he really doesn't need is a pet penguin.

But when he spots a penguin struggling in an oil slick whilst in Uruguay he has to help. And then the penguin refuses to leave his side.

Clearly Tom has no choice but to smuggle it across the border, through customs, and back to school. He names him Juan Salvador.

Whether it's as the rugby team's mascot, the housekeeper's confidant, the host at Tom's parties or the most flamboyant swimming coach in world history, Juan Salvador transforms the lives of all he meets - including Tom, who discovers a compadre like no other...

Thoughts about the book

Imagine. You walk alone on a beach anywhere in the southern hemisphere of the world and you come across hundreds of dead penguins because of an oil spill. But one penguin is alive. What would you do?

It was in the 1970s when Tom Michell made exactly this experience. Of course, he helped this penguin as best as he could. But how? Take him home?

I have to admit that I was a little bit wary at the beginning when I hold the book in my hands and read just the title of the book. In the first moments I thought about a penguin involuntarily kept as a pet and probably dressed in cloths. Like often today. At first I thought, do we need a book that encourages people to keep wild animals as pets, dress them in cloths to showcase them on Social Media like Instagram? Look for capuchin monkeys on Instagram and I hope you understand what I mean.

However, I was too hasty.

The book is different.

This book goes deeper and has a message.

And not to forget. It was in the 70s when Social Media didn’t exist.

The book is based on a true story. It is about an English teacher from Great Britain in Argentina who tried his best to help a wild and distressed animal in need. It is an incredible story not only about a special friendship between two species, but also about how the author was continuously looking for the best option for the penguin (Juan Salvador). Maybe a zoo? Or what about another penguin colony? Is there a colony that would accept a lonely penguin?

The book is beautifully written. With the author's nice, sympathetic and humorous language Tom Michell got me with his incredible tale. This book is different. Special. Heart-warming. But also concerning. The author raises attention to the current state of our earth and how we treat creatures other like humans. The book made me smile, but also pensively. What are we doing to our planet?

I’m not an expert in penguin rehabilitation and don't know what should have been done with Juan Salvador in that era. What should have been the best for him? It is by far not a book that should encourage you to take an animal from the wild and keep it as a pet. Tom Michell was doing his best to help this little penguin. I saw in this book not only a special friendship, but also a way to tell the readers more about the threats penguins and many other wild animals are exposed to. It is a wonderful book and I can undoubtedly recommend it to read.

There is one short video of the penguin on Youtube:

On BBC you will find a short interview of the Tom Michell.


After reading this book I could not stop thinking about the story Tom Michell told about the penguin he met. It was a very special encounter the author had with a remarkable penguin. It is a very emotional book, but also raises awareness about the state of our planet...

Have you read The Penguin Lessons? What are your thoughts about this book? Do you know another story of a special animal encounter?

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