One of my favourite things when I first started Kindergarten was story time, and one of the very first stories I remember our teacher reading was ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ by Robert McCloskey. Our teacher said that Mr McCloskey had won the Caldecott Medal for his book. I wasn’t sure what that was, and Caldecott seemed like an awfully big word, but at five years of age it sounded pretty impressive to me.
Although the story had been written twenty-five years before I first heard it, the tale of Mr and Mrs Mallard and their eight ducklings captured my imagination. I’m not the only one. The book has never been out of print since its first publication and it’s the official book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Set in the Boston Public Gardens, Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of Mr and Mrs Mallard, who are looking for a place to settle with their young family. A rather hazardous and eventful journey (with some assistance from a kind policeman named Michael) eventually leads Mrs Mallard and her babies to the island in the Boston Public Gardens lagoon where her husband, who has been looking for a home elsewhere, joins them.
I had not thought of Make Way For Ducklings for many years when our guide mentioned the story on an Old Town Trolley Tour of Boston. However, he’d no sooner spoken than Mr and Mrs Mallard, their ducklings and memories of rainy afternoons spent at story time in the school library all came flooding back. I was excited to learn that there is a Ducklings Day Parade every Mother’s Day in Boston. Children and their families dressed as characters from the story gather on Boston Common before marching through Beacon Hill to the Public Gardens. They are led by the Harvard Band.
The little girl in me was thrilled to happen upon the bronze sculptures of Mrs Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack in the Boston Public Gardens.
It is such a happy place. In fact, it’s very hard to photograph the sculpture without children playing on it, and I am certain that is just how both the sculptor Nancy Schon, and indeed Robert McCloskey, would want it.
On the last day of our visit, we were on our way back to our hotel from the State House and I wandered back to the Public Gardens to see the sculpture once again. As I turned away and began to walk through the gardens towards Tremont Street, a mother duck and her babies appeared almost out of nowhere. She saw me, changed direction and walked towards me.
In the end, she came up so close I could almost have touched her. She stopped, looked up at me for a few moments and then turned and led her babies away.
Now I know that Mrs Mallard and her family were just creatures of Robert McCloskey’s imagination, and that this mother duck only had three ducklings, but as someone who believes there is magic in everything, well, I was pretty thrilled all the same!