Book 2: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Mr. and Mrs. Mallard turn seventy next year. When they first landed at the Boston Public Garden in 1941, little did they know they'd be raising more than just their ducklings Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack. They would, and continue to, help raise thousands if not millions of future readers and there is a very good reason why this story is timeless. Well, many good reasons, actually, and while I can't quack for the millions of other readers who love the story, for me I'm never quite sure the Mallard family is going to make it across the street safely. Oh I know, there is the theme of family and all sorts of other underlying messages. But, when I read a children's story I want to read it through the eyes of a child and grown up stuff, like the afore mentioned thematic items, for the most sail right over a child's head. Don't get me wrong, they will (unconsciously) note the idea of family and that the Mallard's are doing everything they can to make sure their ducklings are raised safely. But, they (meaning children) are not going to stop and think, "Now, what is the author really trying to say."
I don't want to get bogged down in grown-up stuff. One of the many purposes of books for kids is to entertain and Make Way for Ducklings has it all. The opening scene draws you right in...where on earth are Mr. and Mrs. Mallard going to land for the night. A young reader or listener is hooked right from the beginning...wondering what's going to happen next. Will they find food? Will they find a place to lay their eggs? And how on earth are they going to get across the street to meet Mr. Mallard on the pond at the Public Garden.
That is the child equivalent of whether Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy will work out their differences and marry. No matter how many times I read Make Way for Ducklings, I'm never quite convinced it's going to work out. That the family isn't going to make it across the streets and into the pond at the Public Garden to a waiting Mr. Mallard. And this is one reason why it is such a beloved and classic story. Because they DO arrive safely, and everyone, no matter how old, needs that reassurance that things can work out just fine...that happy endings aren't just the stuff of fairy tales.
The other magical aspect of the story is the illustrations. Secretly, I wanted one of the ducklings for my own. McCloskey captured their physical and behavioral antics perfectly. Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack come alive with every reading. Anyone looking at the pictures can't help but feel as if they're standing on the sidewalk, too, waiting to cross the street or floating with Mr. and Mrs. Mallard in the air scouting out a place to land.
Everyone, no matter their age, enjoys a good story. Stories invite the imagination to run wild, to laugh, to cry, to work out what worries us. And there's no better place to begin doing that than the pond at the Boston Public Garden. Quack!
Historical Note: In order to capture the ducks as perfectly as he did, McCloskey lived with ten mallard ducks and their chicks in his New York apartment for about a year to get them just right.