18 Good Read The Penguin Lessons … What I learned from a remarkable bird by Tom Michell Michael Joseph, November 2015 There’s a neat symmetry about The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell. Here is a book about a penguin published by Penguin. It’s also a book for adults which can be enjoyed by older children – certainly those with a reasonable vocabulary and a friendly grown-up to hand. I enjoyed reading it to myself but would equally have been happy to read it aloud – with special voices for conversations between the bird and our hero the author. The Penguin Lessons is a true story – a sort of love story – about a young teacher who, 40 years or so ago, takes a job at a boarding school in Buenos Aires and rescues a penguin from an oil slick. Naturally the penguin – as they do – mistakes Tom Michell for his new best friend and parent rolled into one and there you have the basis for this charming, highly acclaimed little story. Colourful attraction Juan Salvado, as he is named, is literally brought back to life by the author. Washed and fluffed en route to the start of a new term at the very English St George’s College, he becomes a colourful attraction at the heart of the school. In return, he gets fed large quantities of fish by the boys, fussed over by matron and other staff and generally made to feel that he rules the roost. This is a Rockhopper Penguin and, as we learn at the end of the book, the Rockhopper always needs a pal by his side. Aside from the Dr Doolittle element, we also get a touch of the Bill Bryson – in this case an Englishman’s epic trip to the Southern Hemisphere. This is the Argentina of Peron, of hyperinflation – even penguin fish have to be bought today, rather than tomorrow! – and prairie-roaming gauchos. When the author isn’t penguin-sitting he’s out exploring a country he loves and giving the reader some nerve-tingling insights into the wild outdoors. So, if you’re curious about penguins and want to get a feel for post-war Argentina, this may be a book for you. It’s a friendly and rather poignant read, with human kindness and animal spirit very much to the fore. Nick Cottam The Penguin Lessons is available (price £9.99) from the Church Shop.