Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden

Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2021. 9781984816061

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? Four narrators alternate chapters in this novel about identity, acceptance and hope.  In Vermont, Libby has been suspended for painting a sunset on a school wall; her family is more upset about her artistic tendencies and the fact that she’s quit softball than the idea that she’s been punished by the principal. In a neighboring town, Jack is struggling with guilt and grief over the accidental death of his little brother, and is also trying to think of ways to save his small-town school from being shut down.  Meanwhile, in Seattle, Vincent’s mother is concerned about his unconventional interests, like Katherine Johnson, triangles, and puffins.  Vincent stays home for a few days from school after a bullying incident, and during that time befriends T, a homeless, nonbinary teen living on the street between Vincent’s house and school.  The lives of the four kids intersect when Libby starts writing and illustrating positive messages on index cards and leaving them all over town, and some of these cards ultimately make their way across the country (in both directions) to inspire and encourage the main characters to take important actions.

These four characters’ stories are told over a three week period; details are slowly revealed about their backgrounds (most significantly, why T is on the street, and the heartbreaking story of Jack’s brother ) as the narrative of their current circumstances moves forward.  All four seek acceptance and contend with varying degrees of bullying, exclusion, and misunderstanding from classmates, family members, and complete strangers alike; they find comfort and grace in the simple messages of encouragement that are sent.  Each narrator employs the first person, but the voices are distinct and easy to differentiate.  T’s chapters are in free verse; their language is very spare in the beginning but becomes wordier and more elaborate as their friendship with Vincent blossoms.    

Anything you did not like about the book? The coincidence that brings these four kids together seems a bit contrived, and the quick resolutions are a little too pat.

To whom would you recommend this book? Students in grade 5 and up who enjoyed Braden’s first book, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, as well as realistic fiction readers of authors like Kate Messner or Cammie McGovern.

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: October 31, 2021

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