Written and Illustrated by Lita Judge
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
“I was hatched to fly,” said Penguin. “When do classes start?”
The plot in a nutshell: A penguin tries his best to fly
Penguin claims to have the soul of an eagle and he enters flight school to learn how to fly, even though the teacher tells him that penguins can’t fly. Penguin and all the other students practice for weeks, but on the day they are finally cleared for takeoff, Penguin jumps out and drops into the water. Dejected, he leaves without even saying goodbye. Then Flamingo has an idea and they stop Penguin from leaving. They tie feathers to him and he tries to take off again. This time, he soars into the sky. (Of course, the strings that tied the feathers were also attached to the flamingo, who was flying above him.) When the string comes untied, he falls down into a tree, but is still happy because he got to live his dream. The book ends with him returning to flight school with his friend, Ostrich.
Author/illustrator Lita Judge grew up with a wide variety of animals, primarily birds, around her Alaska home and she draws inspiration from them for her picture books. It would be hard not to instantly like Penguin from the first page, when he shows up full of positivity, hopefulness and an impossible dream. I love that his teachers didn’t dismiss this dream immediately, but accepted him as a pupil in spite of their doubts of his success. Clearly these are the types of teachers we need out there, willing to help kids reach for the goals that seem outside of their grasp.
Her watercolor and pencil illustrations also showcase her love of birds, with a variety of species included here with all their individual colors, sizes and shapes. I loved the way that the teacher is portrayed, with a pair of pince nez perched on his bill and a somewhat imperious look on his face. Nearly all the action takes place above the water with a bright yellow sky in the background, which serves to underscore Penguin’s optimistic nature. I see the book’s conclusion as more than just a punch line. It feels to me as though Penguin, having been given the chance to live his dream, is paying it forward. I really enjoyed this one.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that no dream is impossible with a little imagination and a lot of support.