By Roberta

AUTHOR:  Berkeley Breathed
DATE:   1991, still in print
LENGTH:  30 pages in hard cover
GENRE:  children’s Christmas fiction


A special holiday deserves special treatment, so here it comes: a Christmas book review. 

I’m not a great fan of Santa Claus in children’s fiction, mostly because the jolly old saint has been hijacked and turned into such a huge symbol for Commercialization, with a focus on Getting rather than Giving.  I also tend not to like children’s books based on satirical comic strips that are usually aimed at adults, because the satire goes right over most juvenile readers’ heads.  All this being said, I’m more than willing to make exceptions on both points for Berkeley Breathed’s “A Wish for Wings That Work”.  This is a beautiful Christmas story, about dreams and wishes and how our wishes may be granted in ways other than what we originally imagined. 

Breathed uses Opus, the very human penguin from his Bloom County comic strip, to tell this story.  Opus, being a penguin, is a bird who can’t fly, and the story begins by showing just how much he wants to do what he sees other birds doing every day.

            “It was a good morning to fly, even if it had come late and slow and so cold that a penguin feared his nose might freeze and drop off like one of the icicles hanging over the porch.

            “Fly,” Opus whispered to himself as he ran to the top of Duck’s Breath Ridge at dawn to watch the snow ducks soar above.  “Fly,” he whispered as he lifted his wings and waited to be swept up beneath the fading Christmas moon with the other birds.

            “But it was on mornings such as this that Opus’s heart grew as cold as his nose.  A penguin can surely say the word fly, but he cannot do it.

            “A bird with wings that won’t work!”  Opus growled to himself.  “What good is that?  What good am I?  I might as well have been born a snail.  Or a slice of melba toast.” 

How many children – and adults too, for that matter – have had similar thoughts and feelings at one time or another?  I still do, whenever my willpower fails and I dive into a box of chocolates, sending my blood sugar soaring, and my spirit into a nose-dive of “Why Me?” and “I Don’t Care”.  It’s a kind of universal feeling, but children don’t always know this, and think they’re the only one ever to feel this way.  This book is a great way to help children understand that they’re not alone, and that there’s more than one way to get past it. 

Opus’s story continues through encounters with pigeons who don’t want to “share pickles with birds whose wings do not work,”, and attempts to buy some mechanical wings, which he takes up to Vulture Gorge, only to look over the edge, sigh, and go home to spend “the rest of the day cooking anchovy Christmas cookies, which wasn’t nearly as dangerous”.  So, he gets the idea to ask Santa for help:  “But since my wings sputter / at those times they should flutter, / I thought you should know / I need wings that will GO!” 

He is, of course, absolutely convinced he will get his wish, and goes around telling everyone that Santa Claus will be bringing him new wings and he will be flying on Christmas morning.  We all know this won’t happen, after all, how can Santa make a penguin into a bird who can fly?  But surprises always happen, and after a Christmas Eve disaster when Santa’s sleigh crashes into a nearby lake and beings to sink through the ice, Opus emerges as a hero BECAUSE of his wings that ‘won’t work’ as other birds’ wings do.  And on Christmas morning, Opus does get to fly, in an entirely different way than he imagined. 

It’s an inventive variation on the Ugly Duckling story, much more to my taste than Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, with clever language, an amusingly sympathetic character that both kids and adults can identify with, and fantastic full-color illustrations taking up every other page.  I for one truly hope that this book becomes a Christmas Classic in homes all over.


Merry Christmas to all!



You can find a copy of "A Wish for Wings that Work" at , your local book store or library

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