I bought this book a few weeks ago, almost entirely on a whim, when I was at Powell’s City of Books in Oregon. I didn’t know anything about the book, and all I knew about the author, Sun-mi Hwang, was that she was Korean and her name popped up a few times in connection with other authors I like. As shots in the dark go, though, this was a lucky hit: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is adorable.
While not intended as a children’s book, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly has a very Charlotte’s Web-like vibe, plus a heavy dose of allegory. It follows the story of Sprout, an egg-laying hen who dreams of escaping the hen house and roaming the yard, where she might actually get to hatch an egg of her own. All of the other barnyard animals are similarly anthropomorphized, creating a cute little animal community, which nevertheless turns out kind of dark because the animals are still animals.
Everybody is mean to Sprout, and she basically can’t catch a break, but–and I can’t believe I’m about to use these descriptors–her pluck and courage will have you rooting for her from the beginning. She’s just so endearing, despite being as dumb as chickens are wont to be, and also super naive. You the reader can figure out everything that’s happening long before Sprout does, but instead of being annoying, it just makes you sadder for her. Poor, dumb chicken. All she wanted was to hatch an egg, and all she got was harrassment.
Between the anthropomorphizing and its length (just over a hundred pages in my translation), it would be easy to assume this was a children’s novel, and there are certainly children who would enjoy it. But a number of the themes woven into this story are actually really dark. Sprout is a social outcast, rejected and harrassed by her peers, hunted by a local weasel, doing her best to fend for herself in a world that discarded her. The ending especially is a bit of a downer, though victorious in its own way. There’s very little that’s feel-good about this book, though there’s something to be said for sweet little stories that don’t pull punches.
If this book had been any longer, I might have gotten bored of reading about Sprout’s narrow little world and the petty creatures in it, but at the length it is, it’s just right. A darkly cute little fairytale about a hen–well worth reading.
Your feathered friend,
“Just because you’re the same kind doesn’t mean you’re all one happy family. The important thing is to understand each other. That’s love!”