08/02/2021 / Review

Flight of The Puffin by Ann Braden

Flight of The Puffin by Ann Braden is a book that will stay with you long after you've finished reading. The characters are a diverse group of kids that provide a glimpse into what their lives are inside and outside of school. The themes unfold from the first few pages as the story opens. It is told from four unique perspectives through the eyes of each of the main characters.
Libby is a teenage girl who deals with a mother who disregards her talents and interests, a father who is distant and overbearing, and a brother who takes after his father leaving Libby with the burden of their history of bullying. Along with her family that doesn’t truly know her, Libby deals with stress of “cliques” at school and the hurt of being ignored by a former friend as she  chooses popularity over friendship. 

Jack is around the same age as Libby, but he attends a small, rural school in Vermont. He is a character who is helpful and kind to all kids, as well as his teachers. Jack becomes involved in the fight to save his school, coming up with the great idea to have petitions signed by the community. It is through this community spirit that Jack’s inner feelings begin to emerge. While on the surface Jack comes from a loving family, as the layers of his character unfold, he reveals a constant memory of his brother Alex who died, and the feeling that Jack did not do enough to save him. 

Vincent is a young boy who will probably catch more than a few reader’s attention. He loves math, especially geometry. He is also infatuated with two things: the now famous NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson from the HIdden Figures story and Puffins, otherwise known as “clowns of the sea”. In a world that tends to celebrate sports over academics, Vincent is bullied by boys at his school and struggles to find his own power. 

Finally, the character known as “T” says little but conveys great meaning in “their” words. T is a young person who does not identify as a boy or a girl simply as “they”. They lives on the street with their dog, Peko, and would rather live this way than return to a home where they don’t feel understood or wanted. Finding some comfort at the local Sunshine Drop-in Center, T struggles to survive. Through an unlikely friendship, T finds light where there had only been darkness. 

What do all of these characters have in common? The desire to be seen and heard for who they are and what makes them unique. This story is wonderfully crafted around the central themes of  the importance of being true to yourself and the idea that one act of kindness ripples to find those who need it most. A single act of kindness can trigger life changing results. 

It all starts with Libby and the wonderful way a former art teacher made her feel. Mrs. DeSouza abruptly left the school, but her passion for art, creativity, and teaching resonated with Libby. One day after getting in trouble for expressing herself through art on one of the school walls, Libby is told to not only paint over her creation with white paint, but to clean the art closet. While there she finds a rock that Mrs. DeSouza used to have on her desk. The rock read,  “Create the world of your dreams.” Libby remembers Mrs. DeSouza as someone who “got her”. She slips the rock and a tube of glitter glue into her pocket before having to go to the office to face her father, the principal, and her suspension. On her way,  Libby decides to put a drop of glitter glue on one of the hallway tiles to give it some sparkle, as she is pretty sure the world of her dreams “would be all kinds of sparkly”. Sadly, as she smears the glitter glue on the tile, she realizes the glue, just like her life, is a “sad grey smear”. 

As she continues to the office, a boy from her English class gives her a few index cards and colored pencils from their teacher. These materials are to be used to create a color coded five paragraph essay. Later, back at home in her room, Libby looks at the materials and remembers something that Mrs. DeSouza used to tell her as she’d look at a blank piece of paper, “One line is all it takes.” As Libby thinks about a dandelion that she saw pushing its way through the cracks of the driveway, she thinks, “That’s me. That is me. I just have to find my way to the sunshine.” Libby begins to work with her limited materials (meant for the essay) and draws the dandelion making its way to the sunshine on one of the index cards. She hears Mrs. DeSouza in her mind encouraging her as she works, “Look at that light. Look at that sparkle.” Libby imagines Mrs. DeSouza saying, “And think about it Libby, that’s happening everyday in every part of the world. Isn’t that amazing?” And with that one word, “Amazing” Libby writes it on a card adding “You are” to create an affirmation that would be the catalyst for this story-

 “You are amazing.” Sometimes that is all we really need to change the way we feel on any given day. Libby’s adventures then begin as she makes and hides several affirming notes all over town. The notes build a connection as we learn more about the other characters and how much one act of kindness can have a positive effect on many lives. You will feel for Libby, Vincent, Jack, and T, as well as cheer as each finds their way through their struggles and reveals the unique power within themselves. 

This is a story that is rich in truth, sadness, redemption, and possibilities. It is a wonderful book that I would recommend to teens, middle school and above, as it deals with bullying, gender issues, and family tragedy. I am looking forward to reading Ann Braden’s book The Benefits of Being an Octopus. 

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Kathleen Palmieri

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher, a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Learning Facilitator, and a fifth grade educator in upstate New York. She reviews professional texts and writes education articles for Middleweb. As a writer with a passion for pedagogy, Kathleen's focus is on education practices and strategies, as well as her own experiences as an educator. She has presented at math conferences, writing workshops, actively collaborates in literacy projects, and networks globally. 
KathleenPalmieri.com