The Penguin Lessons

What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird

Anyone who enjoys offbeat animal stories will find Tom Mitchell’s “The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned From a Remarkable Penguin” a delightful and very entertaining read.

Now in his sixties, the author harkens back in this memoir to his days as a young man when he left his home in England to take a teaching assignment at a boy’s boarding school in Argentina. Although there is certainly information about the teaching assignment and some of his adventures in South America, the bulk of this little book is devoted to the very odd situation Mitchell found himself in when he adopted a penguin he discovered on an outing to Uruguay.

I’ll let the author explain how this event unfolded and why he decided to take the penguin, dubbed Juan Salvador, under his care, but suffice it to say, the little fellow not only adapted to his new environment but also became a hit at the school.

While his stay at the school didn’t last a long time, during the interval he was in residence the penguin fulfilled an interesting role as mascot, confidant and even swim coach.

This is an incredible story which Mitchell shares with his reader and it is one that can’t help but give anyone who picks up the book a warm feeling.

For a nice change of pace from more reading traditional fare you might want to try “The Penguin Lessons” and, odds are, when you finish the book you’ll be inclined to recommend it to family and friends.


Book Blurb for The Penguin Lessons

A unique and moving real-life story of the extraordinary bond between a young teacher and a penguin, this book will delight readers who loved Marley & Me, Dewey the Library Cat, The Good Good Pig, and any book by Jon Katz.

In 1975, twenty-three-year-old Englishman Tom Michell follows his wanderlust to Argentina, where he becomes assistant master at a prestigious boarding school. But Michell’s adventures really begin when, on a weekend in Uruguay, he rescues a penguin covered in oil from an ocean spill, cleans the bird up, and attempts to return him to the sea. The penguin refuses to leave his rescuer’s side. “That was the moment at which he became my penguin, and whatever the future held, we’d face it together,” says Michell in this charming memoir.

Michell names the penguin Juan Salvador (“John Saved”), but Juan Salvador, as it turns out, is the one who saves Michell.

After Michell smuggles the bird back to Argentina and into his campus apartment, word spreads about the young Englishman’s unusual roommate. Juan Salvador is suddenly the center of attention—as mascot of the rugby team, confidant to the dorm housekeeper, co-host of Michell’s parties, and an unprecedented swimming coach to a shy boy. Even through the collapse of the Perónist government and amid the country’s economic and political strife, Juan Salvador brings joy to everyone around him—especially Michell, who considers the affectionate animal a compadre and kindred spirit.

Witty and heartwarming, The Penguin Lessons is a classic in the making, a story that is both absurd and wonderful, exactly like Juan Salvador.


Night Owl Reviews Dec, 2015 4.00