Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

Bechdel: Nope
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 1 point. C gave it a thumbs up, but I still think it’s overrated.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

I’m honestly a bit flummoxed as to why Make Way for Ducklings is as famous and iconic as it is, apart, maybe, for its love affair with Boston. I mean, it’s an okay story, I suppose, but it’s way too long for the age group it’s in (which may be a fault of the list from which I am working more than the book itself), and, well, I am less than enthralled by it.

Having said that, C gave it a thumbs up on this read through. I actually think it may be better for his current age. I’ve read it to him before and he wasn’t impressed, but this time around he liked it. And is, as I write this, sitting on the floor playing and reciting the “Jack Kack Lack…” list of the ducklings names. (Which is another thing – how the hell are you meant to pronounce “Ouack”? I went with “Whack”, as in Ouija, but am open to suggestions.)

As for my liberal agenda, it pretty much fails in all regards. 😉 Fails the Bechdel (only one female character, unless we assume some of the non-gendered duckling names are girls, but even then they never reply to their mother), has some exceedingly old-school gender role stuff going on (complete with the absent father who goes off “exploring” leaving Mrs Mallard to take care of the children herself), and, if you look at the illustrations, you’d swear there was no-one in Boston in 1941 who wasn’t white.

I don’t get it, to be honest. I mean, I guess it’s probably nifty if you’re a Bostonite and want a book that has clear images of your home, or if you’re particularly attached to ducks. The story is kind of cute, I suppose. I’m not even going to take issue with the totally far-fetched notion that the Boston police force had so little to do in 1941 that they dispatch an entire car full of cops to help some ducks cross the road – it is a kids’ book after all, albeit one selling itself at least in part as realism.

The 1001 book claims that the ducks never act as anything other than ducks, but I don’t buy that. Mrs Mallard seems very much like a 40s housewife to me, and Mr Mallard is as condescendingly long-suffering as any 40s husband may be expected to be about his wife’s fussiness about her new home. There are definitely some old-school values going on there to do with what it means to be married and having children. And there is a clear “the children are the woman’s job” thing (which may be what ducks do – I am no ornithologist – but it’s framed in a very anthropomorphic way, so my ideological stance on it stands).

It’s an okay tale, I guess, but it doesn’t score high by the standards I’m working from here.


What do you think? Overrated? Am I being too mean? What alternative duck stories do you know about for this age group?

2 thoughts on “Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey

    1. Hey you know me, I’m never going to say you shouldn’t love something! I am absolutely sure some of the books I loved as a child (and that I still have fondness for) are going to fail this test. 🙂 ❤


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