In “Penguin the Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family,” Cameron Bloom shares the story of two accidents — one that caused his wife to become paralyzed and another that brought a small baby bird into their lives. How the second accident made the first a bit more bearable is the basis of the story.
During a family vacation to Thailand, Bloom’s wife, Sam, the mother of their three boys, fell from a 20 foot height and was badly injured. Barely clinging to life, she was rushed to a series of hospitals. She was lucky to survive the fall, but she didn’t survive unscathed. When her condition finally was stable enough for a plane flight, she and her family went back home to Australia. There she continued to receive care at a hospital.
Sam’s spirits plummeted after she got home. Everything she was not able to do depressed her, and her family felt like there was little they could do to make her happy.
Then there’s Penguin’s story. During a horrible storm, a baby magpie was blown from his nest, high up in a tree, and left injured on the ground. It was there that the Bloom boys found her, small and weak. They took her home but could not find a rescue sanctuary to take her. So they decided to do the best they could for this tiny creature who had no one else.
At first, Sam’s story and Penguin’s story are told separately. Then the stories come together. Bloom writes, “Penguin and Sam became inseparable. One was always looking after the other. When Penguin was weak and sickly, Sam would lovingly nurse her back to health. And when Sam found it hard to get moving, Penguin would sing her energy levels up.”
The pictures as well as the beautifully written text are an important part of this story. The photos are beautiful — there’s a reason that Bloom is an award-winning photographer. The photos of the whole family with Penguin range from Penguin participating in mundane things, just hanging out on someone’s shoulder or head, to Penguin getting acclimated to being outside in “her” tree. All of them show how incredibly gentle and tame the bird is.
Having — if not a bird like Penguin — an animal to help with healing might be very helpful according to what Sam writes at the end. She says:
“…Penguin was a wonderful sounding board for me. Penguin always listened attentively without becoming visibly upset and never accidentally said anything thoughtless in response. My swearing might have made the angels blush, but I was able to vent all my frustrations and spit out all the vicious, ugly things that were eating away at me and know that I was harming no one.”
Studies have shown that people react differently talking to animals than to other people, even those they love. There is less stress, less exposure, and more freedom to share anything.
The ending of the story shows the independent spirits of both Sam and Penguin. Penguin grows more independent, living in a tree in the back yard but still visiting often. She visits the town of Newport Beach and once even visited the local kindergarten to try to steal the kids’ lunches.
Sam, too, has found her own way. She became engrossed in kayaking and, through hard work and determination, was the fastest female KL1 paddler in Australia one year. She claimed national titles and at one time posted the eighth fastest time in the world. She also joined an elite group and went to the Canoe Sprint World Championship in Milan.
This book is a wonderful choice for many readers. It’s a great story about the determination and grit of a woman and her family, including a wonderful, wild magpie, who support her and love her.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Atria Hardcover, for review purposes.