Make Way for Ducklings is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. First published in 1941, the book tells the story of a pair of mallard ducks who decide to raise their family on an island in the lagoon in Boston Public Garden, a park in the center of Boston, Massachusetts.
Make Way for Ducklings won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for McCloskey's illustrations, executed in charcoal then lithographed on zinc plates. As of 2003, the book had sold over two million copies. The book's popularity led to the construction of a statue in the Public Garden of the mother duck and her eight ducklings, which is a popular destination for children and adults alike. The book is also the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Praise for the book is still high over sixty years since its first publication, mainly for the enhancing illustrations and effective pacing. It was criticised for having a loose plot, however, as well as poor characterization. The book is extremely popular worldwide. The city of Boston, where the story is set, as well as Novodevichy Park, Moscow, have both built small statues based on the story.
In his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, McCloskey explained his motivation for the book. While at Vesper George, McCloskey spent time in the Public Garden feeding the ducks. After some time away, he returned to Boston to paint a mural and created a draft of the book after inspiration from May Massee. To better illustrate the story, McCloskey spent time at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, visited an ornithologist, and eventually brought home six ducklings to live in his studio as models. The studio is located at 280 West 12th Street, apartment 4C in New York's West Village.
Shortly thereafter, the mallards molt, and Mrs. Mallard hatches eight ducklings named Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack. After the ducklings are born, Mr. Mallard decides to take a trip up the river to see what the rest of it is like. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard agree to meet at the Public Garden in one week. In the meantime, Mrs. Mallard teaches the eight ducklings all they need to know about being ducks.
One week later, Mrs. Mallard leads the ducklings ashore and straight to the highway in hopes of crossing to reach the Garden, but she has trouble crossing as the cars will not yield to her. Michael, the policeman who fed peanuts to the Mallards, stops traffic for the family to cross. Michael calls police headquarters and instructs them to send a police car to stop traffic along the route for the ducks. The ducks cross the highway, Embankment Road, then proceed down Mount Vernon Street to Charles Street where they head south to the Garden. When the family must cross Beacon Street to enter the Garden, there are four policeman standing in the intersection stopping traffic to make way for the ducklings. Mr. Mallard is waiting in the Public Garden for the rest of the family. Finally, the family decides to stay in the Garden and lives happily ever after.
The book, which received the 1942 Caldecott Medal for its illustrations, has continued to garner praise sixty years after its first publishing. When it was first released in 1941, Ellen Buell of The New York Times called the book "one of the merriest we have had in a long time", praising the understated comedic aspect of the procession down Beacon Street, as well as McCloskey's "fine large pictures" which simultaneously demonstrate "economy of line" and "wealth of detail".
To children, according to critics, the book is attractive because the drawings of Boston represent a duck's eye view of the city. Pictures are a true extension of the plot, and the story would lack without them. Most compelling is the individuality with which McCloskey imbues each duckling. Each of the individual ducklings are "bored, inquisitive, sleepy, or they are scratching, talking over their backs one to another, running to catch up with the line". Children identify with the ducklings because they behave as children do. The comforting message shows parents as caretakers, protectors, and teachers.
"'Good,' said Mr. Mallard, delighted that at last Mrs. Mallard had found a place that suited her. But —" (p. 11)
Then, they encounter a sudden problem with the chosen location when Mrs. Mallard is nearly run over by a bicyclist on page thirteen.
"'Look out!' squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither. 'You'll get run over!'" (p. 13)
The broken sentence structure forces a quick page change, enhancing the sense of surprise on this page.
The city of Boston, the setting of the book, has whole-heartedly embraced the story. In the Public Garden, where the Mallards eventually settled, a bronze statue has been erected of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings. While the tallest statue stands only 38 inches (.97 meters) tall, the caravan of bronze ducks set in Boston cobblestone spans 35 feet (10.67 m) from front to back. The statue, installed October 4, 1987, was a tribute to Robert McCloskey "whose story ... has made the Boston Public Garden familiar to children throughout the world."
Since 1978, the city has hosted an annual Duckling Day parade each spring, in which children dressed as ducklings and their parents retrace the path taken by Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings to get from the Charles River to the Public Garden.
In 2000, schoolchildren from Canton, Massachusetts decided that the book was worthy of being the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and went to their state legislature to get a bill passed declaring it so. However, legislators from Springfield, Massachusetts blocked the legislation on the grounds the official book should be by Springfield native Dr. Seuss. Legislators reached a compromise when they agreed to make Dr. Seuss the official children's author of the commonwealth and Make Way for Ducklings the official children's book.
A statue similar to the one in the Boston Public Garden was erected in Novodevichy Park in Moscow as part of the START Treaty on July 30, 1991. The statue, which was long, was presented by then United States First Lady Barbara Bush to Russian First Lady Raisa Gorbachev as a gift to the children of the Soviet Union. Four of the ducks were stolen, three in February 2000 and one in 1991. Thieves hoping to sell the ducks as scrap metal cut the statues off at the legs. The ducks were replaced in September 2000 at a rededication ceremony attended by former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev.