by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
It felt like a particularly rough week in the news, so I was happy to be reading Ross Burach’s lively and silly—and just plain fun—picture book Truck Full of Ducks.
As I do each week, I checked in with David Vozar. This time I wanted to hear what he thinks about when it comes to ducks. From his office next door to mine at Scholastic Book Clubs, he conjured up the following memory:
“After reading Truck Full of Ducks I was reminded of my very own duck encounter.
“My son was three years old when we took a trip to Bermuda. He loved the swings, so I got the hotel to drive us out to a playground. It was in the middle of a large field. While I pushed him, a little white duck walked right over to us. He was so cute, and Leo enjoyed watching him…until a large flock of about 20 ducks followed and swarmed around us.
“The sheer number of those ducks running toward us filled both of us with dread. Leo started screaming. I put him up on my shoulders as I carefully walked through the hordes back up to the sidewalk, where we were finally free of ducks.”
Ducks have always played a role in my life.
They weren’t as sinister for me as they were for David—except when a group of kids sat cross-legged in a circle in our family room and played Duck, Duck, Goose.
During that game, I had that dreaded anticipation of being tapped on the head and hearing the word “GOOSE!” Then I had to get up, run around the circle, and chase the head tapper, who then displaced me by taking my spot in the circle. I have no idea what game creator thought this would be fun—or why ducks were involved, but they were.
Come to think of it, a lot of the childhood games we played, including games played during regular phys-ed class in the gym at school—such as Bombardment, where we threw hard rubber balls at each other?!—created those same horrible feelings of fear and dread and displacement.
But mostly the ducks in my life were sweet and evoked happy thoughts.
As a child growing up outside of Boston, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings was a staple read-aloud. I am pretty sure my mother is reading Make Way for Ducklings to me in this photo:
When we were older, and our parents were convinced we wouldn’t drown in the Boston Public Garden, we would head downtown and spend the afternoon riding on the Swan Boats. From the Swan Boats we could trace the route of Robert McCloskey’s Mrs. Mallard and Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack to meet up with Mr. Mallard.
We duck lovers would think about the fictional Mallard family as we bought a bag of peanuts to feed the real-life ducks who swam around the Swan Boats. This was life imitating art.
Today there is a bronze statue of the duck family journey in the Boston Public Garden. It was created by artist Nancy Schön, and apparently it never needs to be polished because kids sit on it so often!
When my own kids were young, we used to play the “Rubber Ducky” song from Sesame Street over and over and over again. It was definitely a staple at bath time, but it was also in constant rotation along with “George Washington Bridge” and “Baby Beluga” on our long-ish drives to visit my parents—and ride on the Swan Boats—in Boston.
Today, we would probably be listening to “Baby Shark.”
In the ’80s, the Scholastic Book Clubs staff would attend the International Reading Association convention in Orlando, Florida. One of the central hotels for this huge conference of reading teachers was the Peabody Hotel on International Drive, which featured a nightly parade of real ducks marching through the hotel lobby.
One night, after a wonderful teacher and author dinner, George Nicholson (iconic, brilliant, and beloved children’s book publisher) and Elaine Konigsburg (iconic, brilliant, and beloved author of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)—inspired by those ducks—broke, spontaneously, into a waltz.
It was quite a night and I never look at a parade of ducks without thinking about George and Elaine and how their collective imaginations contributed so much to children’s literature. And how their elegant dance moves inspired us all.
Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, we would order takeout Chinese food on special occasions. It always felt special because we got to eat with chopsticks and pass around all the white cartons of food to share.
After each meal, my mother and father would annotate the takeout menu from Ho Sai Gai, the restaurant in South Brookline we ordered from. That way, the next time we ordered, we would remember how we liked—or did not like—the dishes. “Good but spicy” was a common epithet.
It never occurred to me that anyone would not want to eat Chinese food the same way as our family, but it turns out my husband, Jeff, does not like to share his meals. As a defense against sharing, he would always order crispy duck, which came as an individual, not easily divisible, entrée.
My associations with ducks were cute and cuddly and rhythmic, so I didn’t want to eat crispy duck anyway, but it took me years to forgive Jeff for being such a pain at big family dinners.
Alexie Basil, who helps me write these Life of a Reader posts, told me an interesting story about the Central Park Mandarin duck that recently visited this past autumn.
For the past few months, bird watchers—both professional and on social media—have been going crazy over the rare East Asian bird that mysteriously appeared in the city. Its beautiful, exotic plumage makes the mallards look dull in comparison.
One of my favorite articles about the situation is from the New York Times. It’s titled “The Hot Duck That Won’t Go Away.” And, yes, they mean “hot” as in it’s a very attractive duck. It’s been called “the Kim Kardashian of ducks.”
I would love to meet the person who dropped off a random Mandarin duck to live among all the average mallard ducks in New York City’s Central Park Pond.
So with all these duck memories, we were happy to turn our attention to this week’s Dollar Deal: Truck Full of Ducks—a charming, fun, and laugh-out-loud-funny picture book by Ross Burach.
Truck Full of Ducks is the story of a dog named Bernie who needs to deliver a truck full of ducks. But after the ducks eat the invoice with the delivery address, Bernie can’t figure out where to take his yellow truckload.
“Children will delight in the extreme silliness of this story and will repeatedly pore over the detailed, colorful, and quirky illustrations.” —School Library Journal
We all laughed and “quacked up” while working on the posts for Truck Full of Ducks. Check out the rest of this week’s posts and sing along to the Book Boys’ newest original song; learn how a kindergarten teacher uses Truck Full of Ducks to engage her students intellectually, socially, and physically in Book Talks; play a fun game of Drawing with Duckies with creator Ross Burach in Behind the Scenes; and then for a fun class activity, let your students draw their favorite animals in the truck in Cooked Up from a Book!
I hope you enjoy this week’s Dollar Deal. And if you figure out who put the Mandarin duck in the Central Park Pond, please let me know.
In the meantime, happy reading!
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs