I Can't Can Fly, written and illustrated by Fifi Kuo

I Can’t Can Fly written and illustrated by Fifi Kuo is one of the six books on the shortlist for the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize.

The judges describe it as a beautiful book, with a lovely sense of movement. Though the story has been done before Fifi has transformed it. They admired her ‘fantastic’ drawing skills, noting that every penguin is different.

Here Fifi Kuo introduces her book and discusses one of her favourite illustrations.

I am writing this in the exhausting, suffocating heat of Taiwan. My brain is scorched. I long to feel cold. I imagine diving deep into cool water. I don’t actually like swimming but I do find oceans fascinating and mysterious. I like the sunlight under water with sparkles bouncing off bubbles.

I have never seen penguins in the wild although they are one of my favourite creatures. To get to know them, I watched and re-watched wildlife films and videos of penguins on YouTube. A good way to do research! As I watched I became enchanted by the way they move, fall into the water and the shapes they create in water as they swim so effortlessly. I also love the way the parents look after their babies.

I didn’t do a lot of sketches before I started the book. I just watched and studied and in this spread I imagined myself in the cool water looking up into the light, encircled by fish with birds looking down on me. The composition came to me as if I was in a dream. I work quickly so I can put my thoughts onto paper easily. I wanted the penguins to be caressed by light and swimming together at the centre of their world. I hope that I have created a closeness between the father and his baby. The father is right by the little penguin’s side showing him the beauty of ocean and also showing him what he can do. I hope that with this simple drawing I’ve created something beautiful.

People ask me how I manage to give animals human emotions but I always say that I believe that every creature in this world has their own emotions and feelings. So I don’t really consider giving an animal human feelings because I just see that an animal has feelings!

For this book I thought about painting with watercolours but decided on coloured pencils. I chose to limit the colours and palette to capture the ice, snow and water and I tried to give the water a sense of movement by circling around the penguins and blending the colours. The blue is deeper and darker at the edges emphasising that the penguins are at the centre. I also tried to create a luminosity in the circle around the penguins. Little penguin has been unhappy because he cannot fly in the traditional way. In this picture he is serene. It’s simple. His father has shown him what he can do. He can fly in his own way.

I have always loved to draw and I draw instinctively. My style is loose and fluid and I hope to capture and convey emotions. I enjoy telling stories too. I believe that pictures can tell stories that we cannot put into words. Together, words and pictures can help us see the world in a different way. I hope my drawings speak to you!

I Can’t Can Fly is published by Boxer Books.


The Klaus Flugge Prize is funded personally by Klaus Flugge and run independently of Andersen Press.

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