Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

As I reread this classic, I try to think about what sets it apart. What makes it that rare children's book from the 1940s that's still popular today?

It's not the full color pictures, because there aren't any. But never mind that, the art is amazing. McCloskey won only the 6th Caldecott Medal in 1942, and he was the first person to win two of them. (He also received a Caldecott Honor for Blueberries for Sal, reviewed on this site.) The ducks look like real ducks! They actually look more real than the somewhat cartoonish people in the story, and that's how it should be.

The story is about the ducks, not the people.

This classic picture book is also a value. Instead of coming in at the standardized 28-32 pages of today's picture books, McCloskey took as long as he needed to tell his story. That just happens to be 68 fast-moving pages.

Also uncharacteristic of today's picture books, he sets Make Way for Ducklings in a real place. Boston, Massachussetts is a star of this book almost as much as Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. You can take your kids to look for the Mallard Family!

And while McCloskey's use of talking animals is hardly revolutionary, the fact that ducks talk in a story in which humans also talk feels fresh today. The talking animals in picture books usually are standing in for their human counterparts. In Make Way for Ducklings, they're standing alongside.

Throw in the fact that McCloskey's black and white drawings can easily be copied and used for coloring pages for your little ones, and you can see why this book still sells like hotcakes nearly 70 years after its initial publication.

color added

Make Way for Ducklings

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for a decent place to raise children, and Boston, from above, looks appealing. Public Garden has a nice pond and a little island. No foxes, no turtles. It seems perfect...until they encounter their first bicycle.

No thanks!

So the Mallards settle on a little island in the Charles. There's a friendly policeman at the park across the way who feeds them peanuts. So it's here that Mrs. Mallard lays and hatches her eggs.

About this time Mr. Mallard decides to take a trip down river for a week. Review continues.

Make Way for Ducklings, book cover and statue, photographer Ian Britton

That's right! Eight new kids, and he's going on vacation. I guess that's how it was done in 1941! He and Mrs. Mallard agree to meet, with the kids, at Public Garden.

Well, the kids are well-behaved, but they can't fly. Which means they have to navigate vehicle traffic. Which means...

It's a good thing Mrs. Mallard made friends with that policeman. Make way for ducklings!

Cute ducks, friendly cops, the city of Boston, the search for a new home, great looking old cars and a simpler time when people actually spent time in parks, it all goes towards making Make Way for Ducklings still a great read today.

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