Make Way For Ducklings, Lentil!

When my son was little, we read Make Way For Ducklings a million times. There’s a bit of onomatopoeia/assonance in it that he just loved; the bit where all the ducklings are named, and the reader should read it very fast so that is sounds like a duck quacking. You try it. Read this passage out loud. Fast.

Mrs. Mallard stepped out to cross the road. ‘Honk, honk!’ went the horns on the speeding cars. ‘Qua-a-ack!’ went Mrs. Mallard as she tumbled back again. ‘Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!’ went Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack, just as loud as their little quackers could quack.

I’m sure you can imagine how delighted my son Mac was to have his name included in the mix. We read that passage over and over. Years later, my daughter loved the book, too, and we went in search of the duck statue in Boston Public Gardens on a trip to the east coast. Little did we know that we needn’t have travelled more than a couple of miles to celebrate Make Way For Ducklings and author Robert McCloskey. He was born right here in Hamilton, Ohio!

I couldn’t believe it! I’d had no idea that such an accomplished author/illustrator hailed from Hamilton. He’s a two-time Caldecott winner, for Pete’s sake! And I live right down the road from where he grew up. Amazing.

Further investigation lead me to discover that a sculpture honoring McCloskey’s work had been commissioned here in his home town. I went looking for the statue and was sure I’d found it at the bridge over the Great Miami River where there is a sculpture of two flying mallards. The ducks were here!

Nope. Wrong ducks.

I’ve driven by the sculpture hundreds of time, assuming that this was Hamilton’s Make Way for Ducklings representation. But then as I was walking through Hamilton, I finally read the placard. It has nothing to do with Make Way for Ducklings at all. This wasn’t the McCloskey statue! It was actually across the river on Front Street. And though it wasn’t a sculpture of Make Way for Ducklings, it was a sculpture created by Nancy Schon,  the same woman who created the Boston art piece.

Lentil and his dog, Harmony, walking through Lentil Park in Hamilton, Ohio.

Hamilton’s statue depicts another of McCloskey’s works: Lentil. It’s the story of a boy who wanders around town playing his harmonica and meeting people. I can’t help but agree that Lentil is much more appropriate for Hamilton than the ducklings that settled in Boston. Surely McCloskey had Hamilton in mind when he wrote it. In fact, it was probably loosely autobiographical; McCloskey played the harmonica, too.

I’m thrilled to know that a person of such literary esteem grew up right here in my own backyard. It gives me hope that a little of his magic might rub off on me. Lentil was a wonderful book, and it’s nice to wander by the Lentil statue and feel a sense of connectedness with a literary great. But I still want to believe that the ducklings sculpture is in honor of Make Way for Ducklings. One statue for McCloskey is just not enough.

Is there anyone famous from your hometown?


7 responses to “Make Way For Ducklings, Lentil!

  1. I had no idea how much of an impression this book made on my daughter until we made the same trip years ago. She was too old to be still reading the book but her face lit up as if she was 4 years old again, hearing the story for the first time.

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