Friday, December 08, 2006

A Little Poetry for You: Breathed

It's Poetry Friday, and coming on Christmas....

A couple of weeks back I promised I'd talk about Berkeley Breathed's Christmas classic, A Wish for Wings that Work. Having finally gone through all my boxes of decorations without finding it, and starting to feel very very sorry for myself for having to celebrate an Opus-less holiday, I realized that the book was not packed away in the attic but sitting in its rightful place on my bookshelves all along. It was hiding in plain sight in the "Christmas" section that I created when I moved here a year ago. I'd never had a "Christmas" section in previous houses, you see, so I completely forgot. Sometimes organization can be a bad thing, don't you think? But enough about my bookshelves, I want to tell you about this book.

A Wish for Wings that Work is my favorite Christmas book. Hands down.

Reasons to love this book:
The story is touching. Opus is a penguin (as all you Bloom County fans already know) who wants to fly. Penguins are flightless birds, and Opus is none too happy about this.
"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."
Opus will do almost anything just for the chance to fly. He will buy a flying machine if that's what it takes. Or, if that's no good, he'll... he'll... he'll just ASK SANTA. Yeah, that's what he'll do. The story of how Opus learns to appreciate his own special qualities, and save the day in the process, is quite simply, sweet. But goofy enough not to be saccharin.
The language is poetic. From the first sentence, this book sounds special: "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." And throughout the book there are rhymes, alliteration ("Catastrophe! Calamity!... A considerable setback!") and quick little images that make you want to go back and re-read.
Opus is a poet at heart, as his faithful fans know. Here is his letter to Santa:
Dear Santa Claus,
In the past I have asked
for a scarf that would last.
I have wished for new skates
or some herring rum cakes.
But since my wings sputter
at those times they should flutter,
I thought you should know
I need wings that will go!

The illustrations are gorgeous. Breathed alternates between pictures that are filled with an assortment of brilliant colors, to others that are almost monochromatic but equally stunning. He fills each picture with the perfect details to capture Opus' obsession with flying -- a clock that is shaped like a propeller, the movie poster for "Wing and a Prayer," Opus sleeping with the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull lying open on the bed beside him, the lampshade covered with images of flying ducks. And in each image Breathed captures Opus' pure Opus-ness, whether Opus is melancholy, hopeful, dreaming, sleepy, bashful, or gleeful.
The book is funny. From the side of the Flap-o-Matic box ("Requires a teensy bit of assembly") to Opus' anchovy Christmas cookies to the picture of Amelia Earhart over the fireplace, there are things that make me giggle on almost every page. Sometimes it's the tiniest detail in the illustration, sometimes it's the way Opus' story is told, and sometimes it's just the snooty pigeons.

If you are looking for a Christmas book that you will laugh and cry over, that you'll have trouble handing over to your kids to read without you, that you'll love reading to your kids or to other people's kids, A Wish for Wings that Work is the one.

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