Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a fairy-tale-like book about a hen called Sprout. She is an egg-layer on a farm – living in a small cage with only a glimpse of the world outside her barn. She dreams of one day hatching one of the eggs the farmer’s wife takes from her each day, and living outside in the yard.
This is a huge hit in South Korea – the book blurb says it’s been on bestseller lists for ten years and been adapted into the highest-grossing animated film in Korean history, as well as a comic, a play and a musical. It has been sold as being a cross between Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite reach those heights for me. It doesn’t have enough politics to be comparable to Animal Farm, and doesn’t have quite the same punch as Charlotte’s Web (though that may be because I read that as a child and this as an adult). But it’s still a great little read.
The thing about fairy tales is that they can be read on any number of levels, and this one is no exception. You can read The Hen Who Dreamed as a simple story about a determined hen, struggling and striving for her dreams, or one about immigration, adoption, motherhood, difference and death.
I did get annoyed with it in the middle. When she realises she won’t lay any more eggs (and so won’t be able to hatch one), she says ‘if I can’t lay an egg, what’s the point of my life?’ She does go on to hatch someone else’s egg, and so becomes fulfilled, but I do get annoyed in fiction when the only way to fulfillment is through motherhood – if you can’t do that, you’re nothing. For some people that might feel true, but it would be nice if there were more stories out there where the woman feels fulfilled, without feeling anything is missing, without that.
However, it picked up again towards the end, and I really liked that the ‘evil’ hunter weasel’s perspective is given and you see she’s not so different from Sprout. I’ve seen that some readers don’t like the way it ends, but, without giving too much away, I think it fit well, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with death in a book that might be for children.
I think it’s a book that would be nice to read together, adult and child, but bear in mind that it’s set on a farm and animals are hunting each other, so there is death (but nothing too graphic), and you might want to have a ‘birds & the bees’ prepared in case the child wants to know why it’s not possible for Sprout to hatch an egg…
It’s a beautiful-looking book – the cover art is gorgeous and there are lovely simple illustrations between each chapter like this one. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly would make a lovely gift for a child or an adult who likes fairy tales.