Here & there: 75 years of ‘Make Way for Ducklings’

Classic children's story, "Make Way For Ducklings," is 75 years old. This art piece by Nancy Schon is in the Boston Public Garden commemorating the book. Boston, Massachusetts, date not given | Photo via Wikipedia creative commons, St. George News

OPINION — Somewhere between breakfast cleanup and a shower, my cell phone buzzed Tuesday morning with a group message from my mom:

Cover of Make Way for Ducklings. McCluskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: The Viking Press, 1941. Print. | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

Today is the 75th anniversary of “Make Way for Ducklings.” My mother used to read it to me when I was a little girl. I’ve always loved it. Kat had it memorized before she could read. Today is also Grandma Jessie’s birthday. April 12, 1903.

The text stream that erupted between my mom, my sisters and me was full of shared childhood memories about the book and pledges to read it with our kids that night in honor of my mom – and her mom, who most of us never knew.

Reading was a big deal, with a capital “D,” growing up in my family. Both of my parents loved books and read wildly.

My mom used to joke that my dad loved books so much he was regularly caught taking long, appreciative whiffs from his required reading in law school.

My mom’s love for books translated heavily into our nightly bedtime rituals. She would lie down and read with each child before tucking us in for the night.

As older children, she read to us from the likes of “Little Women,” “Heidi” and “Indian in the Cupboard.” As younger children, we poured over the pages of “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” “The Runaway Bunny” and “Make Way for Ducklings” together.

Michael, the Policeman, stopping Boston traffic for the Mallard Family on their way to the Public Garden. McCluskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: The Viking Press, 1941. Print. | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

It’s no wonder Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack Mallard are important to me. Whenever I picture their waddling forms trailing across the busy Boston streets, I’m transported back under my yellow-canopied bed with my mom by my side and all to myself.

But those ducks mean something more than that to me – and to the rest of America it seems.

In 1987, Friends of the Boston Public Garden installed a bronze sculpture of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings in the Boston Public Garden on Boston Cobblestone as a tribute to the book and to all the people who love it.

The sculptor, Nancy Schön, said of her work, “I treasure time that I spend standing near the sculpture and watching all the children hug, kiss, climb on and feed the ducks. How fortunate I am to have made this sculpture which, thanks to Mr. McCloskey, has given so much pleasure to so many.”

It’s not all that surprising, really: the charming charcoal illustrations, the bustling city with a heart, and the story about family unity and keeping promises.

It’s something timeless. It’s something unifying. It’s something quintessentially American.

What may be surprising, however, is that a similar bronze sculpture sits on Boston Cobblestones and some local Black Basalt in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park.

Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings waddling in to Boston Public Garden after a journey across the city. McCluskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: The Viking Press, 1941. Print. | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

The sculpture there, also by Nancy Schön and presented by former First Lady Barbara Bush, alludes to the broader reach of Make Way for Ducklings.

An accompanying plaque reads: “This sculpture is given in love and friendship to the children of the Soviet Union on behalf of the children of the United States. It is based on the beloved American Children’s story ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ by Robert McCloskey.”

One day I’d like to travel to that park in Moscow and see if the children of Russia hug, kiss, climb on and feed the ducks like they do in America. To see if the message of the Mallards really is universal.

But for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with visiting the Boston Public Gardens in June with my boys, where we’ll take our turns wishing Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, Quack and Mrs. Mallard a very happy 75th birthday.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected] | [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • anybody home April 18, 2016 at 11:44 am

    This is a wonderful story for so many reasons…
    First, because “Make Way for Ducklings” has been part of our American culture since Robert McCloskey decided to write about this family of ducks, a story to be read to children again and again, just as Kat describes.

    And second, because Nancy Schon’s sculpture in Boston, and now in Russia where a bit of American culture has been transplanted in the best possible way, is art on a human scale – just the way it best resonates with humans. Gary Price could take a page from this book in considering the 300′ sculpture he’s proposed for the west coast.

    Believe me, I’m quite sure people on the west coast would much prefer a Nancy Schon sculpture of McCloskey’s ducklings to Price’s unattractive and ego-fueled “Responsibility” sculpture any day. Art is not about ego, but about the human connection and Nancy Schon has connected her art to the millions.

    Thanks for such a lovely article, Kat. Enjoy your visit to Boston!

  • .... April 18, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Awwww isn’t that cute the RealMcBoy is following his mommy home.

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