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Robert McCloskey interviewed by Anita Silvey

The Horn Book Radio Review

radio reviewChild’s voice: The Horn Book Radio Review, commentary on books for children and young adults.

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Narrator: Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live. But every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good. There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles. So, they flew on and on.*

Anita Silvey (AS): Make Way for Ducklings, a classic children’s book for over forty years was written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, who also created Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Homer Price, and Time of Wonder. I’m Anita Silvey, editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine, and recently I had a chance to talk to Robert McCloskey about Make Way for Ducklings.

Robert McCloskey (RMC): I had had Lentil accepted — my first book — by this time of course, with Lentil, and my mind was working not only in murals and sculpture (which I’d been interested in in the past), I had children’s books in the back of my mind, too. And so here all of a sudden it clicked. It was almost three years later before Ducklings was finally published.

AS: But you lived with them, didn’t you?

RMC: 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.

AS: How long did it take you to do each book? Were they a two- or three-year process, by and large?

RMC: Make Way for Ducklings took a long time and I rewrote that lots and lots of times, and I had the drawings all ready to go and still rewriting and rewriting. I think it was a good thing, because I thought of the “Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack” I thought of after a number of go-arounds in this script. They were names of all the girls I knew, not even in alphabetical order, and I suddenly clicked: these were more duck-like.

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Narrator: One day the ducklings hatched out. First came Jack then Kack and then Lack, then Mack and Nack and Ouack and Pack and Quack. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were bursting with pride It was a great responsibility taking care of so may ducklings, and it kept them very busy. One day, Mr. Mallard decided . . . *

AS: Do you get responses, letters from children still today? You must have gotten thousands of letters over the years.

RMC: Oh yes, definitely. I get a lot of letters. 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.

AS: You have a rare distinction in your career. You won two Caldecott medals, one for Make Way for Duckilings, and one for Time of Wonder. Were the winning of those sort of the high point, or were there other things in your career that were really exciting? Was it more exciting to get your first book published?

RMC: It was more exciting to get that first book published, I think. That was the — It was an exciting time because it was as though I was sort of tied up in a paper bag or in a gunny sack with a rope around the neck of it, and all of a sudden with the acceptance of that first book everything sort of spilled out! Because its hard to realize now that that was the end of the great depression, you know. Voom! All of a sudden all of this is in front of me and I’m solvent, you know. I’m making some money and I know where my next meal is coming from, and I have a new pair of shoes and that’s it.

AS: That was Robert McCLoskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Homer Price, and Time of Wonder. I’m Anita Silvey, editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine.

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Child: This series of reviews is produced by Greg Fitzgerald and is made possible in part by funds from the Horn Book Incorporated, publishers of the Horn Book Magazine and books concerning children’s literature.

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* Readings are from Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (Penguin Putnam). © Robert McCloskey, 1941. Copyright renewed © Robert Mchorn book radio reviewCloskey, 1969.


This program originally aired on National Public Radio in July or August of 1986. The Radio Review was moderated by Anita Silvey and produced by Greg Fitzgerald.
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