Make Way for Ducklings
Is your group reading Make Way for Ducklings? Use this toolkit to learn about the author, Robert McCloskey, and about the book. Find discussion questions for children and leaders to use in talking about the book, extension activities to expand the experience, and additional resources for further exploration. Download or print the PDF version of this toolkit to share with your group!
It's not easy for duck parents to find a safe place to raise their ducklings, but during a rest stop in Boston's Public Garden, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard think they just might have found the perfect spot. When Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings are stuck at a busy street in downtown Boston, their policeman friend Michael rushes in to stop traffic and make way for them. With its bird’s-eye-view tour of Boston, this classic won the 1942 Caldecott Medal, which is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published that year.
Cited resource: Make Way for Ducklings Literature Guide from Teacher Vision
Born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1914, Robert McCloskey was encouraged by his parents to explore his interests. “I took piano lessons from the time my fingers were long enough to play the scale,” he was once quoted. McCloskey also played the harmonica, drums and oboe. He tinkered with the mechanics of old electric motors, clocks, and even built trains and cranes with remote control. “The inventor’s life was the life for me, that is, until I started making drawings for the school paper,” he said in an early interview. The Hamilton High School graduate won a scholarship to the Vesper George Art School in Boston, which closed in 1984.
In Boston, McCloskey often fed the ducks while walking through the city’s Public Gardens on the way to art school, but the young idealist’s mind was full of Greek mythology, Oriental dragons and the classic building blocks of art education. McCloskey’s urban encounters with mallard ducks, much like other early experiences, would come to life again when he became a children’s book author.
His second and perhaps best-known book, Make Way for Ducklings, won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1942. In the story, a mother duck searches the streets of Boston for a safe place to raise her young. McCloskey began the book by recalling the hilarious scenes of ducks crossing grid-locked Boston streets. To illustrate the detailed movements of his characters with authenticity, McCloskey bought a half dozen southern mallards at a city market from a poultry dealer. He spent the next few weeks crawling around his studio, sketching the ducks and cleaning up their droppings. McCloskey put them in a bathtub to sketch their swimming movements. And when they waddled too fast for him to draw, McCloskey fed the ducks red wine to slow them down. Evident from the richly detailed charcoal illustrations, McCloskey returned to Boson to sketch the book’s background alive with parks, bridges, fences, streets, people, and cars.
Other books written and illustrated by McCloskey include Lentil, Homer Price, Blueberries for Sal, Centerburg Tales, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder, and Burt Dow: Deep Water Man. McCloskey died in 2003.
Photograph used with permission from Penguin Young Readers. Text excerpted from Ohioana Authors: Robert McCloskey.
What do you find in a park? In a city? Ask whether a city would be expected to be a good place for ducks to live.
1. Why did the ducks want to cross the street? Have you ever needed to cross a busy street? What did you do?
2. What do you think the ducks will do in the park?
3. What do you like to do when you go to the park?
4. What means of transportation do the ducks use? What means of transportation do you see people using?
5. How do you know the story took place many years ago?
6. Name the physical features Mr. and Mrs. Mallard saw as they looked for a place to raise their ducklings.
7. Name the occupations you see pictured in the story.
8. Discuss the man-made and natural elements of the setting. Which characteristics of a park make it like a city? Which characteristics make it like a natural area?
Have a discussion about crossing the street safely. What should you do before crossing the street? Discussion points might include looking both ways, holding an adult’s hand, always crossing at an intersection, waiting for the “walk” light or the crossing guard to signal it is safe to cross, etc.
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