Opus Soars in A Wish for Wings That Work

Nov 17, 2009 (Updated Nov 17, 2009)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Opus, outstanding illustrations, touching story

Cons:fans of the strip may be disappointed that Opus is the only familiar character

The Bottom Line: What a bummer to be "a bird without wings that longs to be flying".  Or is it?


In my dad’s office, there hangs a Bloom County comic strip in which young Binkley awakens in the middle of the night to the horrifying specter of an axe-wielding librarian announcing that his book is hundreds of weeks overdue. I’ve always found this a disturbing image indeed, so perhaps I was tempting fate to take a Berkeley Breathed book out of the library. But I’m a big fan of innocent, starry-eyed penguin Opus, and there’s something so touching about that cover in which he stretches his arms out, embracing the night sky as a flock of snow ducks flap overhead, witnesses to A Wish for Wings That Work. So I took my chances.

Opus is the only familiar character from the strip who makes an appearance in the book, which only occasionally hints at Breathed’s typical snarky humor. This is a simple but stirring story in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer family of Christmas tales. Opus longs to take flight like the snow ducks who surround him in his arctic home, but his wings simply aren’t designed for it. So he writes to Santa Claus with a special request, little knowing that being a bird who excels at swimming rather than flight is about to come in very handy.

Opus is such an appealing character, and his insecurities and selflessness are both on full display here. The story is written in prose, with half a page worth of narration on each left-hand page. At the top of those pages are small black-and-white drawings. Meanwhile, the bulk of the burden for the pictures is on the right-hand side, where we get page after page of full-color, gorgeously luminous paintings.

Breathed is particularly attentive to atmosphere, giving us a velvety, starry sky to accompany Opus’s first longings, ominous thundercloud cover for the moment when he is ridiculed by pigeons and glorious sun-dappled white clouds for the triumphant conclusion. I also love the way he works little bits of humor into the artwork. For instance, Santa’s sleigh has an “I Brake for Elves” bumper sticker, and the complicated gizmo Opus purchases has a note on the box warning, “requires a teensy bit of assembly.” Meanwhile, it seems quite fitting that Opus falls asleep on Christmas Eve reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

This is one of the most attractive Christmas books I’ve encountered, with pages I long to leap into - equipped, of course, with appropriate arctic accessories. If such a feat were possible, I’d have to be careful to remind myself to wear a coat, because despite the icy setting, A Wish for Wings That Work leaves me feeling warmed to the core.

This review is an entry in the Lean-n-Mean Write-Off VIII.  Sometimes, less really can be more!  It's also an entry in Chelledun's "Get Those Holiday Reviews Out" Write-Off.  Let's get into the Christmas spirit!


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