You know how they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? Since I do a lot of my reading digitally, I’m not usually prone to that, but I am guilty of judging a book by it’s title. I was browsing NetGalley not too long ago and I ran across a title called The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird. I didn’t request this solely based on the title. The cover art and the blurb indicating a real life penguin was involved also influenced my decision. I make no apologies for my penguin enthusiasm. Not a single one. PENGUINS FOREVER! *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration. My good opinion cannot be bought with a free book. It can be bought with charming penguins, however.*
Tom Michell was a 23 year old Brit with wanderlust when he decided to accept a post teaching in Argentina in the 1970s. While on holidays from school teaching, he often went exploring other South American locales. While visiting a beach in Uruguay, he happened upon a heartbreaking scene. An oil slick had caused hundreds of penguins to wash ashore. (I had such a hard time reading this part, it was worse than those ASPCA commercials where the dogs with injuries look at you so pathetically while Sarah McLachlan sings.) Among the sea of perished penguins (SOB), there was but a single sign of life. Acting on a crazy impulse, Michell decided to take the surviving penguin home, wash him off, and release him back into the wild. It was the 70s, you guys. There weren’t hotlines for wildlife rescue and whatnot. After an eventful de-oiling, the penguin, now known as Juan Salvador, refuses to leave Tom’s side. Naturally Tom does the only logical thing- he smuggles Juan Salvador across the border and takes him home.
A pet penguin!!! You guys, this is the DREAM. Juan Salvador is a Magellanic penguin, which resonated with me especially as the penguin I met face-t0-face was a Magellanic penguin too! Juan Salvador was beyond charming. He became the school’s de-facto rugby mascot, party host, and swimming coach. It’s worth noting that Michell DOES mention all the weirdness that comes with keeping a penguin as a pet, particularly the fact that they poop wherever the heck they want to and need a rather large supply of fresh fish. Still, Juan Salvador seems to thrive in his new home and it’s the cutest thing ever. EVER. This book is not for those who are interested in flowery prose as Michell is quite plain spoken, but who needs flowery prose when you had a penguin pet?! This book is definitely worth a read, even if you’re not an insane penguin lover.
It’s worth noting that at the end of the novel, Michell, who thinks he’s lost all his photographs from that period of his life, runs across some old video footage of Juan Salvador. I tried to locate this clip online, and when I couldn’t find it, I contacted the publisher because I just couldn’t NOT see it. They were kind enough to oblige me with a clip that I’ve loaded below for your viewing pleasure. It’s the best. Many thanks to George Foster at Penguin Random House for supplying me with the footage, and many thanks to Tom Michell for being my penguin rescue hero! Obviously, I think everyone should go procure a copy of The Penguin Lessons. For the love of penguins!
Talk to me Bookworms! Don’t you wish your high school had a live penguin mascot that you could swim with?! Gaaaah I’m dying. DYING, you guys!
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