The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is in the vein of classic children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web and Animal Farm, but it has a spirit of its own. Though it uses simple language, the story it tells is complex and nuanced in its depiction of someone going against their given role in society and facing danger and rejection as a result. It shows both the difficulties and rewards of this kind of life, and ultimately comes down on the side of nonconformity and individualism against tradition and compliance.
Sprout is a wonderful character: lovable, strong, determined, and empathetic. It’s very easy to root for her as she strives for what she wants, and I was quickly invested in her story. She faces obstacle after obstacle, and overcomes them with both grit and warmth, and in the process grows and changes as a person (hen?). The other characters – among them Straggler (another social reject), the rooster (the head of the barn), and the vicious weasel – are memorable and well-rounded, proving worthy counterpoints to Sprout herself.
The story itself is sad, somewhat hard-going, and in places surprisingly dark, but with moments of real joy and triumph. Sprout’s journey is a long and hard one, and as she embarks on it, you experience the ups and downs along with her. The narrative is rewarding and thought-provoking, character- rather than plot-focused, and when all is taken into account, extremely moving.
If I have any criticisms, it’s that some of the supporting characters could have been more fleshed out. As it is, they’re built to serve narrative purposes than seeming like three-dimensional characters themselves. This is a minor point, though, and doesn’t do any harm to the book itself.
The Hen Who Dreamed That She Could Fly will definitely go down as one of my favourite reads this year. It might be a children’s book, but its depth and complexity mean that there’s a lot for adults to take from it too. It will resonate with anyone’s who’s ever felt like they don’t fit in.