Book Review: The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

The Penguin Lessons
by Tom Michell

Publication date: June 16th 2016
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 240


‘I was hoping against hope that the penguin would survive because as of that instant he had a name, and with his name came the beginning of a bond which would last a life-time’

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. He even has a motorbike, Che Guevara style. What he doesn’t need is a pet. What he really doesn’t need is a pet penguin.

Set against Argentina’s turbulent years following the collapse of the corrupt Perónist regime, this is the heart-warming story of Juan Salvador the penguin, rescued by Tom from an oil slick in Uruguay just days before a new term. When the bird refuses to leave Tom’s side, the young teacher has no choice but to smuggle it across the border, through customs, and back to school. 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 – in particular one homesick school boy. And as for Tom, he discovers in Juan Salvador a compadre like no other…

The Penguin Lessons is a unique and moving true story which has captured imaginations around the globe – for all those who dreamed as a child they might one day talk to the animals.

Source: Goodreads


I fell in love with “The Penguin Lessons” as soon as it arrived in the post, the cover itself made me put it to the top of my to-read pile! Fond of penguins from childhood, I was eager to start reading and I gladly found myself engaged in this book from start to finish.

A true story, Tom Michell rescues a penguin from an oil spill on his travels in South America and after cleaning him up and smuggling him across borders, he gives him a home.

I truly found this book fascinating and so informative. Being a little ignorant on these topics before, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned about Argentina’s history and political background, about inflation and the country’s economy, about South American geography and so so much about penguins. Did you know that some penguins have actual legs, not just feet?!

“Most of their leg bones are hidden within their body, which comes down to almost their heels (one of the main reasons penguins don’t get cold legs!).

Well written and magical, Michell takes the reader on a chronological story through his past and his time working in a British boarding school in Argentina. His penguin, named Juan Salvador becomes a part of the family and the school, acting as a pet, friend and confidant at times. Juan’s presence transforms the lives of everyone, from homesick schoolboy Diego to Tom himself. The story is heartwarming yet humorous at times and has really given me something to think about.

“In life he brought cheer and optimism to a great many human souls at a time when there was anguish and distress, and my life has been greatly enlightened by the lessons learned from Juan Salvador – the penguin in a class of his own”

Overall rating: An informative read about my favourite animal which really put a smile on my face. 5 stars!

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