Making Time for Ducklings

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It’s not easy raising children in an urban environment—so many dangers and pitfalls! But with smart parents, careful planning, and the kindness of friends and stranger alike, all can turn out well.

Such is the story told in the children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings. Written in 1941 by Robert McCloskey, the book won the Caldecott Medal for “most distinguished American picture book for children” in 1942.

The story is set in Boston, Massachusetts, and that town has embraced the story and the eight ducklings, named Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack, ever since the book was published.

In the book, Mama Mallard leads her ducklings across some of the busiest streets in the city and their friend, the policeman, stops traffic to allow them to make it safely to the park.

On our recent visit to Boston, we visited the venerable Museum of Fine Arts to see the “Matisse on the Studio” exhibit. While we were there, we found the ducklings honored, too.

A gallery featured McCloskey’s delightful drawings and paintings done for several of his books for children and the ducklings took center stage.

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McCloskey’s illustration

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the picture translated to sculpture

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Eight ducklings make their way

Then on a perfect morning walk in the Boston Public Garden, we visited the ducklings themselves, and their proud mama.

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Yes, it was Easter, and, yes, those are Easter bonnets.

Do folks make way for ducklings where you live?

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61 thoughts on “Making Time for Ducklings

  1. I love that story and that sculpture. How fun that you were there near Easter, and so got to see the bonnets. 🙂

    All of his books were wonderful, but of course I love One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal. 🙂

  2. I remember that book, and also the story of the ducks at the Peabody Hotel in Louisville! The statue decorated with the Easter bonnets is so sweet!

    We are waiting for our ducklings and goslings here. They live on the lake in the park, where they have their own personal thrill ride, since there is a small spillway to ride into the creek, and then they can come back up via the mini ponds throughout the park. (Built by the CCC in the 30’s). We will have Canada goslings, mallards, and I am hoping some wood ducks this year. I saw Mr. & Mrs. Wood last week, so fingers crossed!

    • Wood ducks!!! I don’t think I have ever seen a wood duckling… I will look up a photo online. Sounds like a lovely place for all of you to live. And g-d love the CCC! So many great parks came out of the economic cataclysm of the Great Depression.

      • One year we had three batches in the park, and we actually saw one group “make the leap.” It was amazing, and they are so tiny and adorable! I’m hoping! The Black Hills is a lovely area to live in…the Hills in one side and the plains on the other, some pretty amazing country.

    • We’re waiting for ducklings, too–I love seeing them strung out behind their mamas in the lake. I know we have mallards and mergansers, and the occasional loon.

  3. I am glad the MFA is honoring that book with those great illustrations. Many years ago I gave tours with families and school children which followed the path of the Mallard family around Beacon Hill. Many of the architectural details from the illustrations are still intact and findable/matchable with the book in hand. Your photo of the Mallard Family in their Easter finery is terrific (although I am not sure if their religion is ever specified in the book — I wonder if any of them were bestowed with yamulkes in honor of Passover…)

    • How neat, that you gave those tours! And that the architectural details are identifiable–I need to look more carefully! I don’t know who puts the bonnets on the ducks–I’ve seen a photo of them in Santa hats, too–but yarmulkes would be very cool!

  4. Love that story! In fact, love all his books, and I frequently give them as baby presents. Lots of ducks in Winthrop, because we have so many lakes. I’ve never seen them walking in the road. Our ducks have to beware of snapping turtles, a big menace. But, that’s nature.

  5. Oh yes! My best local memory is of our huge dustbin lorry grinding to a halt on the main road through the village to let Mrs. Duckling and her many balls of fluff cross safely. And I love ‘Make way for ducklings’. I’m going to see if I can source a copy for young William. Thank you.

    • I saw that you found a copy and William will have it soon! I think you’ll both love it–and it will follow nicely on his recent visit to see so many rural animals!

  6. Kerry, even though I haven’t read the book, such is my trust in you that I have found a copy on line, ordered it, and it’s on its way to William as I type (well, maybe not QUITE). You may take this as a high complement!

  7. That is my husband’s favorite children’s book and, if pressed, he might even say it’s his favorite, period. He’s given copies of it to each niece/nephew/grandniece/grandnephew, and our son had the entire McCloskey oeuvre. I’ve seen photos from the Matisse exhibit, and it looks stunning.

    • I wish your husband could see this show–they had illustrations from Blueberries for Sal and a book where a fisherman got swallowed by a whale! And the Matisse was wonderful, too–it featured vases and textiles and things he collected, and juxtaposed the objects with his paintings in which they appeared.

  8. Sadly that book never made it here – or never came within my ken if it did. What a delight! I love that it is still celebrated in the localities in which it is set. (We do have ‘Hairy Maclary’ from Donaldson’s Dairy and his friends who are celebrated in the town where the author lives.) Are the Easter bonnets put in place for Easter only?

  9. Well we don’the have ducklings right here but the next town over has a pond with ducks. They have a sign “Slow Duck Crossing” and traffic does stop for the ducks.

  10. J > Oh yes they do! Strings of ducklings following their mum across a busy road are the stuff of local newspapers – and sometimes even a national. Someone will pull over, get out and stop the traffic. Unfortunately, sometimes – though rarely, there’ll be some … who will overtake all the stationary vehicles, at speed, perhaps angrily shouting abuse at everyone, and damn near wiping out the ducks. The exception, it is said, proves the rule. I’d just love to visit those ducklings. I’d love to visit Boston : If I recall you’ve correctly you’ve family connections there, but I’ve reasons to want to go there too.

    • I hope you get to Boston someday–it’s a wonderful city and so very American. My family connections there are old–an ancestor who lived there in the early 1600s. No family there now but the history and beauty of the city draw me back repeatedly.

    • We have a lot of ducks on our lake but it’s a big lake and we don’t “know” one batch from another. I love watching the babies run across the top of the water!

  11. Yes, we (mostly) stop for ducks and many of the villages have ‘Beware, Ducks Crossing’ signs. I have never heard of this lovely book before – what fabulous illustrations.

  12. I went to college in Boston and so I too enjoyed that book. It is interesting that the city has embraced it so, as you said. In Greenville, we have Mice on Main. I believe an art student came up with the idea, but there are 13 brass mice sculptures along Main Street for visitors to find. We have not found all of them, though there is a cheat sheet. Last year when we had some “tiny friends” visiting, we walked along looking for them and I was surprised at how many they found. There is now a book and t-shirts and all that stuff….not as quaint as Boston, but fun!

  13. On a street near where my daughter used to live was a “duck crossing” sign. The street bisects a park. We never saw ducks or geese actually crossing, but apparently enough did that traffic was duly warned. My mother-in-law gave us her copy of “Make Way for Ducks” along with one about Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, when our children were little and we loved reading them those good old books. Thanks, Kerry, for reminding me of those simple pleasures!

    • There’s a lot of fondness for McCloskey’s books. I didn’t notice if the Mike Mulligan illustrations were in the MFA show but ones from Blueberries for Sal were–all so sweet!

    • I need to try and find out more about the Easter bonnets–who puts them there, etc. I’ve seen that they have Santa hats at Christmas so maybe it’s a year-round tradition.

  14. Oh you’ve brought back great memories! I remember that story book and how much I love the illustrations. We visited the Boston ducks about twenty years ago, as well. What fun to see them again. I had forgotten about the story going with them. Thanks for the delightful post.

    • In all the times we’ve been to Boston, we had never come across the sculpture but we went looking for it this time. A little boy was riding the back of the mama duck–I read that the city never needs to polish the metal in the sculptures because they get touched so much by people passing by.

  15. I was delighted by the book when I found it while doing Children’s Literature as part of a librarian diploma. i was even more delighted when I visited Boston a coulee of years later and was able to match up the places and the illustrations. I don’t think the duck statues were there then.
    Once cars were stopped to allow an echidna to waddle across the road. Does that count?!

    • Oh, good! I hadn’t come across anyone outside of the US and Canada who had heard of the book! The statues were places in the late 1980s so, if you were in Boston before then . . . you’ll have to come back! And, yes, of course an echidna counts (although I had to look up what it was!)

  16. A day in Boston–sweet! The earliest picture books that I can remember from my childhood are “Make Way for Ducklings” and “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” An odd pair, but I loved them both.

  17. Oh my gosh. There’s an organization here that deals with urban wildlife–nesting ducks especially! It’s nice to think people have been protecting feckless urban ducks since the 1940s. I do like the bonnets!

    • There’s a video, going around Facebook, of firefighters scooping ducklings out of a storm drain and returning them to their mama. It can’t be easy being a baby duck!

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