recess radio program

01/10/06
Make Way for Ducklings
    by Rita Smith

The 1942 winner of the Caldecott Award for most distinguished American picture book was Make Way for Ducklings written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. It is a story of two ducks, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, who raise their eight ducklings in and around the pond of the Boston Public Gardens. In his speech accepting the medal, McCloskey, noted that the story of Make Way for Ducklings began in Boston some years before its appearance in picture book form. He was attending art school in the Back Bay section and walked through the Public Gardens every day on his way to class. He noticed the ducks in those days, but never thought about drawing them because his head was filled with images of real art, art like deep forest pools, nudes, mythological characters and dragons.

One day he went to New York and met with a children's book editor. Two things he remembered about the visit were one, after perusing his portfolio, she essentially told him to shelve the dragons and the limpid pool business and get wise to who he really was as an artist; and two, he remembered that she took him out and that they ate Long Island duck. He went back to Boston and started to draw everything and anything, including ducks. After art school, he moved to New York where, several years later, he got the idea for a book about a family of ducks who lived in the Boston Public Gardens.

When he began to make the final drawings, he realized that, in spite of various observations, he knew very little about duck anatomy and habits, so early one morning he went to Washington Market and found a poultry dealer. He bought four mallards, a neat little duck cage and a half-bushel of mash and spent the next few weeks on his hands and knees, armed with a box of tissues for cleaning up and a sketch book, following ducks around the studio, cleaning up after them and observing them as they waddled through the rooms and swam in the bath tub. Later he bought six ducklings and filled more sketchbooks with happy ducklings, sad ducklings, inquisitive ducklings, bored ducklings running, walking, standing, sitting, stretching, swimming, scratching, sleeping ducklings.

When the Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were told that their book had won the Caldecott Award, a little dispute broke out. Mrs. Mallard thought she should be allowed to wear the medal around her neck because she raised the ducklings, but Mr. Mallard though he should wear it because he was the head of the family. In the end, they compromised and pasted it on the book jacket for all to enjoy and everyone, including the artist, was very pleased.

Sources:
McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings, New York: The Viking Press, 1941.
McCloskey, Robert. "The Caldecott Medal Acceptance," The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. xvii, No. 4; July/August, 1942. pp 277-282.


Copyright 2006 Rita Smith

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