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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Birthing a children's book classic


“I lived with them in my studio in New York. And of course if I were doing that book today or even ten years, fifteen years later, I would have gone to where the wild ducks were and where I could study them - I would have gone to the country somewhere.” – Robert McCloskey

The “they” McCloskey refers to are several mallard ducks he purchased and took home in order to study their movements, sounds and actions.  The result was one of the Children’s Book World’s most well-known books, Make Way for Ducklings.

Today is the 102nd anniversary of McCloskey’s birth.  In his lifetime he wrote and illustrated children’s books that remain as classics.  Make Way was one of two to win the prestigious Caldecott Medal (in 1942), awarded in recognition of the year’s best-illustrated picture book.   McCloskey also won for Time of Wonder, and 3 other of his books, including the wonderful Blueberries for Sal, were finalists.  He was the first writer/artist to win more than once.

Make Way features a mallard pair that nests on an island in Boston’s Charles River.   After raising 8 ducklings, the mother leads them to the Public Garden in downtown Boston.  Famously, a friendly policeman stops traffic for them to cross a busy street. The beloved story has become a Boston institution.  

In 1987, renowned sculptor Nancy Schön created a bronze version of Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings, installing them near a downtown Boston park where thousands of children climb them and many more people photograph them annually.  The park is also the site of an annual Make Way for Ducklings Mother's Day parade, featuring hundreds of children dressed in the costumes of their favorite characters.                             
Since 2003, when McCloskey died, Make Way for Ducklings has been the official children's book of Massachusetts.

“I get a lot of letters,” McCloskey once noted.   “Not only from children but from adults, too. Almost every week, every month, clippings come in from some part of the world where ducks are crossing the street.”



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