CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 30. . . .April 14, 2017
More than anything in the world, Penny the penguin wants to fly and, despite being met with disbelief from everyone she tells, she is determined to make it happen. Penny may dream big, but she also bravely takes steps to make flying a reality: she visits the local library to read up on flying, and she visits an airport to sign up for classes. One day, while walking along an icy path and lost in ambitious thought, Penny trips and falls off the cliff edge. Where most would expect fear, Penny responds by flapping her wings, helping herself to land unharmed, albeit with a “bump,” a “thump,” and a “ker-flump”. Penny is successful in achieving her dream of flying, despite her physiology, and she immediately sets herself a new goal, one which receives a great deal of encouragement from past naysayers as she has now proven herself positive and determined.
The unique aspect of this picture book is its author – 13-year-old Tegwen Gwenhwyfar Bryan. Not unlike the protagonist she created, the author is impressive for having set out to have a book published at such a young age. That being said, this book is not unique in any other way. The story line (a penguin wanting to fly) is one that has been done before (and with much better result) and the repetition and reliance on the rule of threes makes for an uninspired read. Penny is adorable, the illustrations mixing soft and vibrant blues and purples are quite eye-catching despite their simplicity. Especially compelling is the two page burst of colour and excitement that depicts Penny’s “flight”.
The message of the story is strong in so few words – not simply believe in yourself no matter what, but change your perspective and redefine success in the face of adversity. Penny wanted to fly and was willing to follow various avenues to see that through. In the end, she allowed herself to feel proud and successful by flapping her wings during a fall – not flying by traditional standards but a victory in the eyes of the beholder. That is a really exciting new message to embolden and empower children – your achievement looks different than someone else’s. I just wish that it had been presented in a more compelling way; the repetition, a staple in children’s literature, feels tedious, and the writing doesn’t do anything to connect us to Penny as a character. Children are very smart; they need more than a few tropes to get them to engage with a text.
Recommended with Reservations.
Amber Allen is a librarian in Toronto, ON, with a passion for children’s literature and writing.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.