with illustrations by Keenon Ferrell and Mark Buckingham (yes, THAT Mark Buckingham!)
Tunde has always felt a little out of place in his primarily white school district. While his Black adoptive parents Ron and Ruth have been nothing but loving and kind, it’s hard being the beaky-nosed Black nerd who’s an easy butt of jokes, especially from school bully Quinn. It doesn’t help that Ron and Ruth have barred him from sports, and would stop him from doing any physical activity more strenuous than walking if they could possibly help it. They claim that he doesn’t have the physique for it, and since they’re both scientists at the nearby Facility, he doesn’t have a lot of basis from which to argue back.
At least he has friends! Jiah is even nerdier than he is, and Kylie is often spouting advice cribbed from her relationship counselor mother. While Tunde loves them both, he’s really relieved when he also makes friends with new kid Nev. It’s a little embarrassing for a twelve-year old boy to only have friends who are girls, so when he hits it off with cool, athletic Nev, it feels like he’s finally finding his people.
A disastrous birthday party, however, persuades him that he needs to spread his metaphorical wings, especially when it comes to standing up to Quinn. At first, this only means taking part in his school’s Sports Day. His stellar performance there, however, soon has him joining Nev, Quinn and cool new girl Dembe on the school soccer team. Despite Quinn’s bullying, everything seems to be going great… until something unimaginable happens at their very first competitive match.
Soon Tunde is trying to figure out not only his new powers but all these strange people around him, as well as the expectations they’re placing on him to, oh, end an intergalactic war. Will he be able to save the day and the lives of millions of people, while sticking to the principles of kindness and leadership that Ron and Ruth have done their best to instill in him?
This is a middle grade book, so the answer is “of course!” But Tunde shoulders all his new-found responsibilities with a humor and kindness that is only elevated by Keenon Ferrell’s charming illustrations. I also really enjoyed the diversions into calling on Kylie’s mom, as well as the seemingly mystifying reasons why the equally Black and beaky Dembe was so popular while Tunde struggled (hint: it’s because she cares less and walks tall.)
Interestingly, the story that comes across so well in text with illustrations sounds a lot stiffer in the bonus comic book format at the end. I’ve loved Mark Buckingham’s work dating back to when he was inking Chris Bachalo’s extraordinary pencils for Generation X (#TeamChrucky all the way) so it was weird how jarringly preachy the comic came across in comparison to the book that preceded it. I get that it’s tough to distil 200 pages into a 5-page comic, and it’s a nice bonus for reluctant readers, but it’s also not my favorite shift in tone.
Regardless, this is an engaging children’s book written by one of Britain’s most beloved comedians. It’s perfect for any nerdy, sci-fi-loving kid (or kid at heart.)
The Boy With Wings by Lenny Henry was published yesterday June 27 2023 by Andrews McMeel Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including