The Old Man and the Penguin – A True Story of True Friendship by Julie Abery

The Old Man and the Penguin – A True Story of True Friendship by Julie Abery
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Told in rhyming verse, this is the touching true story of an oil-soaked penguin, the man who rescues him and an unlikely friendship.João hears “a sorry screech” as he walks along the shore near his home. It’s from a penguin, whose feathers are soaked in oil.Too tired to swim, too weak to stand, he’s barely moving on the sand. João must save this little guy. Without his help, he’ll surely die.João takes the penguin home. He cleans him, feeds him and nurses him slowly back to health — and the pair develop a special bond. When the penguin is fully recovered, João knows it’s time to return him to the wild where he belongs. But the penguin has other ideas …Told in rhyming verse, this heartwarming picture book tells the true story of João Pereira de Souza of Brazil, who cared for a Magellanic penguin that had been caught in an oil spill. When João tried to release him back to the wild, the penguin returned to João’s home and stayed for months. The penguin, named Dindim by João, did eventually leave, but he now returns to visit his friend for five months of every year. A charming read-aloud showcasing a tender relationship between an animal and human, this book also promotes environmental awareness and stewardship, and explains how human activities often threaten wildlife. Author Julie Abery includes information about João and the penguin, how wildlife is affected by oil spills every year, and what to do if you find wildlife in distress. The lively art by award-winning Pierre Pratt brings a touching sweetness and emotional depth to the story. There are character education lessons here on empathy, kindness and caring.

Good deeds are never wasted.
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The friendship between João and Dindim brought a tear to my eye. Normally, I’m a little cautious about stories about wild animals who are captured or tamed by humans, but the narrator made it very clear that this wasn’t exactly what was happening here. João was always incredibly respectful of the fact that Dindim wasn’t a pet and could leave at any time. It was delightful to see the relationship that blossomed between them as the penguin recovered and became strong enough to return to his usual migration patterns.

I would have liked to see more details included in this picture book. For example, what did João’s family and community think of the penguin who lived among them while recovering from his ordeal with the oil spill? There were other moments in the plot that I also thought could have been explained better even though I deeply enjoyed what was shared and am still telling everyone I know who cares about penguins or wildlife rescue in general to check it out.

With that being said, I loved the way this tale shared its messages about compassion and the importance of helping others whenever possible. It trusted its audience to pick up on these themes ourselves which meant that the plot was free to unfold without any unnecessary explanations of what was happening. Writing it this way also meant that the storyline could appeal to a wide range of readers. A small child’s understanding of it might not be identical to how an adult would react to the same information, but there was something meaningful here for children and grown-ups alike.

The Old Man and the Penguin was a heartwarming read for environmentalists and animal-lovers of all ages.

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