‘The egg rolled to a stop upon reaching the wire mesh of the coop. Sprout looked at it – a chalky egg flecked with blood. She hadn’t laid an egg in two days; she doubted she could anymore. Yet there it was – one small, sad egg’.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, Sun-Mi Hwang, Pg.5
Sun-Mi Hwang’s bestseller, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, has only recently been translated into English by Chi-Young Kim. Originally published in 2000, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly was an instant success and remained on bestseller lists for almost ten years. It was also adapted into one of the highest-grossing animated films in Korea. It is surprising, then, that it was only translated into English a year ago and I probably would have missed its release altogether if it hadn’t been for the wonderful Staff Recommendations shelves at my local Waterstones (which also introduced me to Sophie Divry’s The Library of Unrequited Love).
“A sprout is the mother of flowers”, Sprout explained. “It breathes, stands firm against rain and wind, keeps the sunlight, and rears blindingly white flowers. If it weren’t for sprouts, there’s be no trees. A sprout is vital”.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, Sun-Mi Hwang, Pg. 52-3
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly tells the tale of a hen named Sprout who is no longer content with laying eggs for the sake of having them taken away. Living in a small, enclosed cage she glimpses the life she could have through the chicken wire of her coop. One day, when her resolve appears to have reached breaking point and she can no longer carry on laying eggs, the farmer is quick to cull her, assuming she will die soon. However, against all odds Sprout – self-named – battles for survival and a life she can truly call her own. Once in the world outside her chicken coop, Sprout encounters the brutality of a hungry weasel, another outsider like herself – the aptly named Straggler – a duck from the barnyard, and multiple confrontations with the hen and cockerel who rule over the tame, barnyard animals. Sprout soon finds herself outcast from the safety of the barnyard and is left to fend for herself in the wild. Whilst wandering around the surrounding fields she comes across an abandoned egg and her motherly instincts quickly set in. She doesn’t care that the egg is not her own and may not even be of her own kind. When she eventually hatches a little duckling she doesn’t realise until she is scorned and ridiculed by the barnyard animals. But her love for this duckling goes above and beyond any superficial differences and it is this love which gives her the strength and courage to survive in the face of hostility.
As the blurb states, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is ‘an anthem for freedom, individuality, and motherhood featuring a plucky, spirited heroine who rebels against the tradition-bound world of the barnyard’. Hwang certainly shows, through a simplistic, yet strikingly to-the-bone, narrative style that there are moral and humane concerns associated with ‘tradition’. She transcends the animal analogy to critique a society that has much to reflect on. From desire, selfishness, friendship, loneliness, racism and reimagining motherhood (for those who can’t have children), Hwang covers a wide range of subjects which are universal in their scope. However, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly also has an innocence and simplicity in its writing style that it can easily be enjoyed by children, too.
This edition of the book was also dotted with wonderful illustrations by Nomoco, a Japanese designer and illustrator. Here are just a couple of them: