Lynn: November is Picture Book Month and what better way to celebrate than writing about a picture book that celebrates a classic and much-loved picture book? Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941) won the Caldecott and is still treasured by children. The story behind McCloskey’s book has been told in Leonard Marcus’ book, Caldecott Celebration (Walker, 2008) and now Emma Bland Smith brings that inspiring story to children in Mr. McCloskey’s Marvelous Mallards (Calkins Creek, 2022).
Having published his first book, young Robert McCloskey was searching for an idea for a second book. He remembered watching a pair of Mallards and their ducklings waddling into Boston’s Public Gardens all in row. Bingo! But getting the illustrations right turned out to be much harder. He sketched and sketched, only to have his editor, the legendary May Massee reject them all. McCloskey was determined to do better! He started by first bringing home a box of live ducklings to observe and sketch. Still not satisfied, he next brought home adult ducks to add to the chaos in his apartment before finally setting them all free on a pond at a friend’s home. This time his editor loved the sketches and text and an enchanting picture book came to life.
Smith tells this story wonderfully for children with just the right touch of humor and stressing McCloskey’s persistence and hard work to get the drawings just right. Illustrator Becca Stadtlander does a lovely job depicting the famous author/illustrator and his signature illustrations working in gouache and colored pencils in place of McCloskey’s iconic warm brown tones. It is a charming look at the artistic process as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how a book is created. A perfect pairing of books for any story hour or classroom.
And, if you missed our earlier post, To McCloskey’s Ducklings with Love, check that out as well as Nancy Schon’s book Ducks on Parade about the sculptures of McCloskey’s ducks created for the Public Gardens in 1987.