Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack! Oh how I love those little kiddos. I heard this book so many times as a child. Make Way for Ducklings was the 1942 winner and was written by Robert McCloskey. I needed to reread it a couple of times just now in order to make a critical, academic evaluation. Ha! That’s not easy to do with a childhood favorite. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes a book “good” when, to you, it’s just special because it is. How am I going to do this? Like many of the timeless pieces I’m looking forward to rereading, I know the characters like friends, the setting as if I’ve been there myself, and the plot is real to me and worth retelling over and over. What is it that makes these tales stick with kids year after year? Why do parents choose them over other books to read to their children and their children’s children?
I think Make Way for Ducklings is endearing because it is the story of real parents, a real family, real feelings and real struggles. The concerned mom and dad seeking just the right home, the proud mommy “walking with extra swing in her waddle”… Waddle. They’re ducks. Isn’t that great? It’s entertaining and telling to look at human behavior through the personification of adorable critters. The response of the humans in this story is delightful. The reader gets to indulge in the refreshing image of people caring for this little flock even to the extent of slowing down their busy lives and interrupting their jobs. We need examples of those types of actions in a world increasingly unconcerned for the little guy. But do kids get all that? Somewhat. Even the youngest listener can appreciate the cozy safety these ducks feel in their new neighborhood with the abundance of beauty, resources and friends. And there is lots of read-out-loud fun for little ones who enjoy repeating the names with you, “Jack, Kack, Lack,” and crying out with their own “QUACKS” before the near traffic disaster. Oh, and we all love peanuts.
What can I take from this as a writer? Kids like rhymes, repetition, comfort and home. Adults like to read to their children about acts of kindness, good parenting, trust and community.
I don’t think I’ll take quite this much time with all of the medal winners. But to launch this effort, I thought it was important to look generally at the makeup of a truly great children’s book. I also needed to work my own mind into the challenge of picking apart and analyzing writing that is only complex because it is so simple, only profound because of its levity. How do you put so much into so little? Hopefully through considering these questions I will make rereading these works productive, informative and inspiring. I already know that it’s going to be really fun…
© Katie Bieker, 2013