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Happy 75th anniversary, Make Way for Ducklings!

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskeyRobert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings doesn’t fly off the shelves in most places, as far as I know. It wasn’t a huge part of my Albany, New York childhood. It isn’t a flashy book, a colorful book, a rhyming book, or — let’s face it — a conveniently short book.

Maybe most places don’t know Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, or Quack.

But here in Boston, things are different.

The 1942 Caldecott winner is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. That means that when I started working as a bookseller in 2010 (shout-out to Brookline Booksmith and its Pannell Award-winning kids’ section!), Make Way for Ducklings was already a very old book by kid standards. And yet, it was consistently at the top of sales in the kids’ department. We’re talking neck-and-neck with Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Visitors to Boston came in looking for it. Born-and-bred Bostonians bought it as a shower gift for new Boston babies and for out-of-towners. “If you remember one thing about the kids’ section,” I used to say during new employee tours, “it should be how to find Make Way for Ducklings.” Now, Boston even has a book and toy store named after, and largely focused on, the Mallard family and their adventures.

Make Way for Ducklings, by Nancy Schon

Make Way for Ducklings by Nancy Schon

This is a town that celebrates holidays by decorating the Public Garden’s duckling statues. (It’s also a town that sometimes lets off steam by stealing them…but they always find their way home.)

The book still isn’t flashy. It still isn’t colorful, it still doesn’t rhyme, and given today’s attention spans, it’s definitely still long. But none of those things hinder Bostonians’ devotion. Their enthusiasm is rewarded with plucky, astonishingly detailed ducks (apparently modeled after ducks in McCloskey’s bathtub) and a wealth of beloved Boston landmarks (Beacon Street! The Charles River! The swan boats in the Public Garden!). When they take the time for this book, they’re rewarded with a duck’s-eye view tour of their hometown, where sometimes — maybe when the T’s running smoothly and the Red Sox are on a winning streak — people are in the mood to stop, smell the flowers, and make way for ducklings.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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