A couple of years ago, I was in Boston and taking a walk in the Boston Public Garden while I came across an interesting sculpture. It featured America’s most famous mallard family, with Mrs. Mallard leading the way and her eight little ducklings following.
The sculpture is inspired by a popular children’s book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey who wrote the story and illustrated it. The story is about a couple of ducks who look for a suitable place to raise their family, and later, the mother duck takes her family of eight across Boston to meet their father, and they have various adventures en route (Like Shakespeare often did, McCloskey is said to have drawn inspiration for the story from a newspaper report he read). First published in 1941, and awarded the Caldecott medal in 1942, this beautifully illustrated book is still in print.
It’s a remarkable book for several reasons.
In terms of plot and characterization, the narrative presents a strong and independent mother figure who is also caring and concerned. During the II World War, many young children in America were growing up without a father, and the book assured them that it was alright to have a mother in charge, and gave them hope that they would one day be reunited with their fathers.
In terms of the illustrations, they present the reader with an amazing view of Boston from the perspective of a duck – a duck-eyed view of the city (or a very little child’s). It offers an interesting way of getting a child to learn about her surroundings, about perspective, about traffic issues and road safety, and about a host of other things. An interesting anecdote about McCloskey tells us that after spending several days watching ducks in park ponds and learning about them at the Museum of Natural History and making hundreds of sketches, he finally brought home a family of ducks, filled up his bathtub and housed them there. That is how his drawings look so lifelike and evoke such an air of authenticity.
This book is a must-read for children everywhere to get them to reflect on their city’s landmarks, think about habitats, and ponder over the symbiotic relationship between humans and animals.