Written and Illustrated by Berkeley Breathed
Little Brown and Company, 1991
It was a good morning to fly, even if it had come late and so cold that a penguin feared his nose might freeze and drop off like one of the icicles hanging over the porch.
Recommended by: Karen (United Kingdom)
Who is Karen? A liberal backslider who loves her family and friends, her cats and her wee London home (in that order). I spend my time knitting, reading, laughing, cooking, daydreaming and very occasionally working.
How did you discover this book? I randomly picked it up in a bookstore or library.
What do you like about it? It’s a wonderful Christmas story about making the most of your natural talents and the pictures are fantastic.
The plot in a nutshell: A penguin yearns to fly
Opus the penguin wants to fly more than anything in the world, but he can’t (because he’s a penguin). The other birds won’t associate with him, since his wings are non-functional. He buys a product designed to help you fly, but can’t get up the nerve to try it. So he writes a letter asking Santa Claus for useful wings and when Christmas Eve comes, he falls asleep dreaming of flying. Meanwhile, a piece of the harness on Santa’s sleigh breaks, sending him plummeting into a nearby lake. The local snow ducks wake up Opus to come and help. When he sees Santa stranded in the center of the lake, Opus dives in and swims rapidly to him, then pulls the sleigh safely to the shore. Santa thanks him and praises his courage. On Christmas morning, Opus wakes up to find all the snow ducks gathered at his house, wearing bow ties that match his. They take his arms and pull him forward and then up into the air so that he can fly (with them carrying him).
This was the first picture book published by comic strip artist Berkeley Breathed. It features Opus the penguin, a central character from his comic strip, Bloom County and it’s a great example of what made the comic strip so popular, balancing characters who are quirky and funny, but also loaded with heart. Mr. Breathed opens the book with a quote from T.E. Lawrence, “All men dream: but not equally.” That’s a perfect fit for Opus, a flightless bird who refuses to give up on his dream of flight. I also love the snow ducks, who play an important role, even though they spend most of the book in the background, watching the story unfold. When they show up in matching bow ties, it’s a sign of respect for Opus that warms your heart and prepares you for their grand gesture of giving him the opportunity to finally experience flight.
The book features small monochromatic pictures on each left-hand story page and full page color illustrations on each facing page. The artwork, as Karen mentioned, is fantastic, with lots of whimsical details that capture both the action and the emotion of the book’s narrative. This book was made into an animated holiday special the same year that it was published. The animated version includes other characters from the Bloom County and Outland comic strips and has a more manic and silly feel to it, although it keeps the main plot intact. The animation sticks very closely to the book’s artwork. Mr. Breathed is very vocal in his dislike of the special, but I have always enjoyed it. Of course, books are always better, and this one is no exception. It’s a great addition to your holiday bookshelf.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you can never be a failure if you’re using your own skills to the best of your ability.