The Year We Learned to Fly

Image of The Year We Learned to Fly
Release Date: 
January 4, 2022
Nancy Paulsen Books
Reviewed by: 

“a magnificent example of how stories can light imaginations . . .”

The Year We Learned to Fly is a magnificent example of how stories can light imaginations, how powerful words can help us all fly “past even the hardest of times.”

The book opens with a bored brother and sister, cooped up inside by bad weather. Their wise grandmother tells them to “use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours.” They do, imagining themselves “flying over the city we’d known our whole lives, but it was suddenly different. Exploding with every kind of flower we’d ever dreamed of growing.” The gorgeous double-page spread gives the text the vividness of the best kinds of dreams.

When the two start bickering over chores, still stuck inside, Grandma reminds them of her advice, adding that “Somebody somewhere at some point was just as mad as you are now.” The freedom to imagine, along with the connection to the many others who have overcome similar problems, guides the children as they move away from their beloved neighborhood into a strange, new place. By now they don’t need Grandma to remind them. They know that they can use their “own beautiful and brilliant minds.” They free themselves and make some new friends in the process, teaching others to fly the way they do.

Woodson’s words lift the reader, and Lopez’ art carries us along into a world bright with possibilities. The author’s note is a lovely reminder of the way enslaved peoples used stories to free themselves just as Grandma suggests: “these stories gave us wings.” For a generation of children trapped in their homes during Covid, this book will have a special resonance. You can be bored, mad, frustrated, lonely or you can fly, be carried away by your “beautiful and brilliant minds.” Books like this help show the way.