A penguin longs to fly.
A half-hatched penguin peers out from his cracked-open egg on the title page, sharing his first view of the world with readers on the following double-page spread. The shell’s hole faces upward, so Gilbert sees only sky. “The moon glowed. The stars sparkled. The birds wheeled.” Gilbert’s enamored. He needs to fly. But…he’s a penguin. “[T]he storm petrels, the shearwaters, and the wandering albatross” soar “Up Up Up,” those three words marching upward on the page. Gilbert, in contrast, flaps, waddles, slips, spins, and tumbles. The harder he tries, the more he falls, and the more renditions of him appear, emphasizing his failure—even 19 at once. He looks like he’s dancing across the spread, but dancing isn’t his goal. Family is unhelpful: “Give it up, Gilbert,” and, “You’re a penguin, not a goose,” Uncle Crabstack and Aunt Anchovy say quellingly. Gilbert is undeterred. Trudging up a rocky, snowy height, he watches the albatross soar away “over the sparkling ocean.” He jumps to follow—and inadvertently finds his heart’s desire: the penguin version of flying, which is underwater and, it turns out, equally glorious. With masterful composition and scale changes, Bentley creates a white and gently patterned icy world where flying birds wing in elegance both near and far. He renders Gilbert’s fluffiness brilliantly in watercolor and pencil—Gilbert appears soft, not wet—while giving adult penguins sleek edges and flying birds a fine delicacy.
Like Gilbert, this soars. (Picture book. 3-6)