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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Just Ducks, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Salbator Rubbino. Candlewick, Random House. 2012. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"Last year, one made her nest in our greenhouse! When the ducklings hatched...they had to climb the wall at the back of the yard, then jump down to follow their mom to the river."

That part of the young narrator's text is further explored in another small bit of text, using a different font. This separates the story from the factual part of the book:

As soon as their ducklings hatch, mother ducks get them in the water, no matter what, because they are safer there from cats and other hungry creatures."

I want to interject a short aside here. I was visiting in Ohio in May. My friend's house lies on a water channel that is part of the huge lake near her home. As we sat in the porch each morning, we noted a pair of ducks swimming there with their twelve ducklings. It was such a delight to watch them. We also noticed huge carp close to the shore, often swimming up to the surface. One morning, the mama came up on shore, followed by all twelve babies. When they got tired of waiting for her to go back in the water, they played follow the leader and all dove off the boat launch. Suffice it to say, not only land creatures like the taste of ducklings. Not one survived...a sad lesson about life for the vulnerable. Poor mom and dad quacked for them for a couple of days...we were helpless observers.

Back to Just Ducks...a book that Nicola Davies does so well. She offers a story that attracts the attention of young and  interested readers; then, she regales them with bits of nonfiction proffered to inform without overwhelming them. I am delighted to share her many wonderful books with a young audience and with the adults who read to, and with, them. Each one is a gem!

The ducks are mallards. Our young informant knows much about them and shares it with charm and admiration for them, despite the noise they make so early in the morning. They are 'quackers'!
It won't take long for readers to discover the difference between the story being told and the information being shared. The font is smaller and the bits are placed strategically. As she embarks on her day, she offers a close-up look at the ducks on the river; and she is off to school. When school is done, she is quick to feed them if she feels that they need some extra nourishment. It's better not to feed them, she says, as they become dependent; but, there are times when a little extra just won't hurt.

I love that Nicola Davies uses new vocabulary in an open and natural way to help her readers make discoveries about some of the habits of these ducks. Their quacks are both loud and quiet and she ensures that we know that with decreasing font size, and then adds the fact that females quack loudly, being social; while the males quack quietly and are often difficult to hear.  Dabbling, upending, preening, drakes, camouflage are neatly understood through simple, accessible text.

Using mixed media, Salvatore Rubbino brings these creatures to life in a muted palette of browns, greens and greys. Always visible to the reader, we also become aware of their surroundings, their habits, their markings, and their charm as our young narrator shares her love for them, and her interest in knowing more about them. A simple index is useful and an author's note talks about the many kinds of ducks to be found all over the world.         

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