People continue to flock to ride the Swan Boats in the Boston Public Gardens.-www.tangledpasta.net
By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli
“Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live. But every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good. There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles. So they flew on and on.”
Thus begins the enchanting story of Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott Award winning book, Make Way for Ducklings. The book turns 75 years old this year, but it resonates a contemporary vibe. The above opening lines of the story could be any expectant parents seeking a safe neighborhood in which to raise their offspring. The difference is that this family is a web-footed, aquatic one. Not all families have been immortalized in bronze in the Boston Public Gardens, but this particular Mallard family has.
For years I taught McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings in a Children’s Literature course at the university. We discussed how the illustrations are all in brown tones with brown-colored font; how some pages of text consist only of one line, which moves the reader forward more quickly with the action of the story. We also talked a great deal about how the ducklings behaved much like children. The other topic that garnered much interest was how Mrs. Mallard was left in charge for a long period of time while Mr. Mallard flew off in search of food. She was a formidable, independent mother, choosing where her ducklings would hatch, tackling Boston traffic, navigating the maze of streets, and dodging pedestrians in order to navigate her flock to the island on the Charles River in the Public Gardens where they were to rendezvous with Mr. Mallard.
“The ducklings liked the new island so much that they decided to live there. All day long they follow the swan boats and eat peanuts. And when night falls they swim to their little island and go to sleep.”
Charmed by the story, most of my students sought out and read other books I brought to class by Robert McCloskey: One Morning in Maine; Blueberries for Sal, and Time of Wonder.
Several summers ago, my daughter and I went to the Boston Public Gardens where we saw the bronze sculptures of the Mallard family. The Public Gardens are verdant and shady, an idyllic setting for the ducklings’ story and for children to romp and play. Children and adults visit the iconic sculpture and pet and sit atop the ducks. We saw the iconic swan boats filled with passengers tossing peanuts into the water for ducks. Make Way for Ducklings is known worldwide and has been published in various languages over the past 75 years. In 1991, Barbara Bush even gave a replica of the sculpture to Raisa Gorbachev. That sculpture is in a park in Moscow, testimony to the power of the story to transcend political divisions.
It takes a special family of ducks to have Michael the Boston policeman enlist the help of four other policemen to keep aggressive traffic at bay so that Mrs. Mallard and her band of quacking tykes could safely cross Beacon Street. Although Robert McCloskey passed away in 2003, his spirit lives on for millions of readers. He likely took heart in knowing his duckling book is now the official children’s book of Massachusetts. Whenever I see ducklings along the river in my town I smile, as I make way for ducklings crossing the winding paved drive through the riverbank park.
Ciao for now.
McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. The Viking Press. New York, New York. 1941.