Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

  • Title: Make Way for Ducklings
  • Author: Robert McCloskey
  • Publisher: Viking Press
  • Year Published: 1941
  • ISBN: 0140564349
  • List Price: $7.99
  • Page Count: 68
  • Age Range: 4-8
  • Genre: fiction
  • Award(s): Caldecott Medal Winner

Author information: Robert McCloskey (1914-2003) wrote and illustrated many beloved children’s books, including two for which he won the Caldecott Medal. The Horn Book interviewed McCloskey about his writing in 1986, and he confessed that he still, more than forty years later, received mail from children and adult fans about Ducklings. He said that whenever there was a news story about ducklings crossing a street, fans would send him clippings of the story in the mail. He also discussed that, although honored to win two Caldecotts, his most gratifying moment as an author came much earlier: it was the moment he got his first book published. The entire interview is available online here.

Reviews: Because of the age of the title, I could not find many reviews. Kirkus mentioned it in its August 1941 issue, but the review merely gave a summary of the plot and said that it seemed like it would be “enchanting”. The author of the review admits to not having read the book yet at the time of the review (what?) but says that based on the few double spreads and the text of the book, which he or she had seen, it looked like it would be a very original work. Goodreads reveals a 4.23/5 score for this book, based on nearly 45,000 ratings, and School Library Journal named it #6 on a list of Top 100 Picture Books in 2012.

Readers annotation: The Mallard family wants to get to Boston’s Public Gardens. But how can they get across busy streets and through the city?

Summary: Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for a home where they can settle down and raise a family. They stop at Boston’s Public Gardens and find much to love there–people feed them peanuts, there are no predators to harm them–but they decide that it may not be the right place to hatch their babies. They decide to raise their ducklings on a small island on the Charles River, and once Mrs. Mallard teaches them how to survive, they decide to make their way back to Boston’s Public Gardens. With the help of a kindly policeman and the friendly citizens of Boston, Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings cross busy streets and make it to the gardens and Mr. Mallard, and they decide that the gardens will be the perfect home for them.

Evaluation: This picture book has delighted readers of all ages for nearly 75 years, and it is clear upon reading it why this is so. The story of the Mallard family is charming and the reader instantly invests in their safety and happiness. The illustrations in the book are adorable and vividly detailed, from the feathers on the ducks to the grille of an automobile, and the pacing of the story makes the reader feel as though he or she is on the journey to the pond with the Mallard family.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 5/5 The artwork, the plot, and the pacing are all perfection in this book. The pictures capture the imagination and are undeniably adorable, and the Mallard family is a joy to read about.
  • Popularity4/5  This book just makes readers smile. Young and old alike will appreciate the heartwarming storytelling and illustrations as well as the positive messages about family and showing kindness to others, big and small. Some readers may not be as captivated with this book due to its more subdued nature–they may prefer more modern books with brighter colors and more action–but the vast majority will love this timeless classic.
  • Appeal factors: anthropomorphic animals, feel-good tone, black and white illustrations, Boston location, happy ending.

Read-alikes: 

  1.  Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore is a great match for readers who loved how people helped Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings get to safety. This is based on a true story that occurred in New York, and highlights the helpful nature of humans towards animals as well as provides the necessary dose of cuteness in the form of more baby ducks.
  2. For readers who loved the classic feel of McCloskey’s book, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf might be a good, if slightly younger, fit. Rendered with elegant black-and-white illustrations, this book features a peaceful young bull named Ferdinand that readers will fall for much in the same way they fell for the Mallard family.

Book talk ideas: Ask children what they would do if they saw a family of ducks trying to cross the street. Then give a brief summary of the story and perhaps show one of McCloskey’s illustrations of the adorable ducklings. Perhaps ask if any of the children have been to the Boston Public Gardens before, and if so, if they’ve seen the duckling statues there.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  • What would you do if you saw a family of ducks crossing the street?
  • Do you think the Mallard family will be happy in their new home?
  • Did you like the illustrations? How would you have drawn a scene from this story?

Reason for reading: I have been reading mostly newer picture book award-winners for this project, and I wanted to broaden my range and read some of the classics that I might have missed growing up. Although the cover looks very familiar and I might have read it or been read to from it when I was a child, I didn’t have any memory of this book and thought it would be a great title to get under my belt. It was an adorable read and I can understand why it has remained a favorite for over seventy years.

Additional relevant information: Boston’s Public Gardens installed a statue to commemorate McCloskey’s iconic book. This statue shows Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings in a row, and the ducks are decorated for various sporting occasions, such as when the Red Sox were in the World Series.

One thought on “Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

  1. Pingback: Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry | Award-Winning Youth Literature

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