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Friday, July 05, 2013

Literary Landmarks - Make Way for Ducklings (in the Boston Public Gardens)

Make Way for Ducklings (in the Boston Public Gardens)
Literary Landmarks: 4th in the Series
Written and Photographed by Jenn Buliszak

In the Boston Public Gardens near Beacon Street and Charles Street lives a mother duck, Mrs. Mallard, and her eight little ducklings, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack.  The ducks from Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941; Caldecott Award, 1942) were immortalized in bronze by sculptor Nancy Schön.  They are perhaps among the best known attractions in the Boston Public Gardens but there are others.

Walking through the Boston Public Garden recently, I visited the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture to view the famous ducks. All nine ducks were outfitted with Boston Bruins capes cheering on Boston’s Hockey team! Who would have guessed that a little family of ducks would come to represent Boston?

Robert McCloskey, who preferred to be called Bob, was born on September 15, 1914 in Hamilton, Ohio. “At an early age he became interested in art, music and inventing mechanical devices—all hobbies that eventually found his way into his books” (McCloskey, 2004, p. 139). McCloskey loved drawing and won a Vesper George Art School scholarship in 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts (McCloskey, 2004, p. 139). After graduating, he moved to New York City to study at the National Academy of Design. Jane McCloskey, his daughter, writes “When Bob was about 25, he thought of doing a children’s book with woodcuts based on the Norse story of Beowulf, with a Grendel monster looking ominous and wood-cutty. He brought some of his woodcuts to May Massee, the woman who was to be his longtime editor. She looked at his work and told him, ‘Lighten up. And go home and write about what you know” (McCloskey J. , 2011, p. 18). He took her advice and traveled home where he wrote and illustrated Lentil and Homer Price.

Make Way for Ducklings
Soon afterwards Robert McCloskey returned to Boston. He said "I had first noticed the ducks when walking through the Boston Public Garden every morning on my way to art school. When I returned to Boston four years later, I noticed the traffic problem of the ducks and heard a few stories about them. The book just sort of developed from there" (McCloskey R. , 2004, p. 141). Children’s Literature Historian, Leonard S. Marcus writes in his introduction to the McCloskey anthology that McCloskey spent ” months of observation in the Boston Public Garden and research at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, he had felt the need to actually live with a family of ducklings in the Greenwich Village apartment he shared with fellow illustrator Marc Simont. How he had struggled to sketch the boisterous birds as they splashed in the tub and skittered from room to room of the apartment’ (McCloskey R. , 2004, p. 8).
Leonard S. Marcus states that McCloskey selected “sepia rather than standard black for both the type and drawing, because of the feeling of warmth it contributed. McCloskey proceeded to push the picture book format to the limit. He aimed, he later said, to infuse his panoramic lithographic drawings with the ‘feel’ of color, to cram the bigness of a mural into each of the book’s open spreads, to show Boston from a ‘duck’s-eye view’ “ (McCloskey R. , 2004, p. 9).

McCloskey includes many of the Boston Public Garden's architectural details in his illustrators for Make Way for Ducklings. Take a look through Make Way for Ducklings and see if you spot some of these landmarks and details from the book!

View of the Boston Public Garden Footbridge and Island

Boston Public Garden Footbridge
The Statue featured in the background.
Swan Boat going by
Louisburg Square

Longfellow Bridge and the Charles River

Corner Shop on Charles Street

Boston Public Garden Entrance Gate Detail

Iron Gate Detail

It was fun walking around with my copy of Make Way for Ducklings photographing many details shown in the original illustrations. I was constantly amazed with how many finely detailed architectural elements McCloskey included within his illustrations. Marcus states “Detail was selective, edited from a child’s, as well as a duck’s perspective. ‘No one [McCloskey] decided, was ‘going to go strolling of flying over and check the number of chimneys that I put on or the number of bricks. But the detail of a wrought-iron fence…that a child would put out his hand on or walk right by or rub a stick on the way children do—that’s accurate” (McCloskey R. , 2004, p. 9).

Robert McCloskey received many awards for Make Way for Ducklings including the prestigious Caldecott Award in 1942.

 Jane McCloskey concludes  “for grown-ups, the biggest source of interest was that Make Way for Ducklings was a story based on real-world ducks. For fifty years, they sent photographs and news stories of mother ducks, followed by their ducklings, walking across streets in small towns and cities all over the world” (McCloskey J. , 2011, p. 145)

Ducklings sculpture
The Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, in the Boston Public Garden, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Sculptor Nancy Schon created the famous literary landmark. “The idea for the Make Way for Ducklings statue came when she and her husband took a visiting professor and his family to the Boston Public Garden. Schon states, ‘they knew the ducks, they knew the story of the ducks, and they had twin boys who were six year old, and they went into the Public Garden. The little boy said,’ Mommy, where are the ducks?’” (New England Cable News). The process took a long time as they sought permission from Robert McCloskey and funding for the bronze sculptures.  Jane McCloskey recounts that Bob was reluctant to go along and her “Mom nudged him, and he got to know and admire Nancy and her work” (McCloskey J. , 2011, p. 148). He then gave his approval and the sculptural process began. McCloskey states, in an interview with Leonard S. Marcus, “It was difficult to decide how large they should be. They’re tremendous compared to actual ducklings. I saw the bronze figures for the first time in the sculptor’s studio, and when they’re indoors they look tremendous. It was a shock to me. So I said, ‘Well, we’ll have to take them out.’ So we put them on a dolly and get them out in the snow and off under some trees, and took a look—and they were just great” (Marcus L. S., 2012)
The Make Way for Ducklings sculpture was immediately embraced by the public and became a destination point for many visitors to the city of Boston. In 1991, Mrs. Gorbachev visited the United States and met with First Lady, Barbara Bush. They visited the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Boston Public Garden. Jane McCloskey writes, “Mrs. Bush decided that, as part of the peacemaking effort between the two nations, the children of the United States should give replicas of the Ducks to the children of the Soviet Union. The Duck replicas were cast and shipped to Moscow. When the peace ceremonies were celebrated and the START treaty signed, Nancy and Bob went with the Bushes to the Soviet Union to take part in the Duck installation” (McCloskey J. , 2011, p. 148). The Make Way for Ducklings replicas are on display in Novodevichy Park in Moscow, Russia. (McCloskey R. , 2004, p. 141).

Duckling Day Parade
Each Mother’s Day, children and parents are excited to participate in Boston’s annual Duckling Day Parade. ”Over a thousand children, dressed as their favorite characters from the story, gather on the Common to enjoy face painting, music making, clowns, and other entertainment before marching through Beacon Hill behind the Harvard Band to the Public Garden” (Boston Central).  Visitors listen to a reading of McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings and watch duck-inspired entertainers. Both parents and children wear duckling-inspired costumes and walk the route of the famous Mallard family. Families need to register ahead to participate each year; the signups are available at

Official Children’s Book of Massachusetts
Students began a campaign in 2003 to nominate Robert McCloskey as the official Massachusetts Children’s author; Jane McCloskey states “kids at another grade school in Springfield, Massachusetts, heard about the McCloskey campaign, and they started a counter-campaign to make Dr. Seuss the official Massachusetts children’s author. Springfield was the hometown of Dr. Seuss. The Massachusetts legislature listened to both sides and reached a compromise” (McCloskey J. , 2011, p. 149). Dr Seuss was designated the “official children’s author, since he came from Massachusetts, and Make Way for Ducklings, about ducks in Boston, became the official Massachusetts children’s book” (McCloskey J. , 2011, p. 149)


·      Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott Acceptance Speech for Make Way for Ducklings is located at!panel=825267!
·      Robert McCloskey’s sketchbooks are held at the Boston Public Library. A preliminary sketch of the ducklings is available online at
·      McCloskey, Jane. Robert McCloskey: a Private Life in Words and Pictures. Illustrations by Robert McCloskey. Kittery Point, ME: Seapoint Books. 2011. 200p.
·      McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. Illustrated by Robert McCloskey. New York, NY: Viking Press. 1941.
·      McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for McCloskey: A Robert McCloskey Treasury. Illustrated by Robert McCloskey. New York, NY: Viking. 2004. 144p.
·      Chronicle recently profiled the work of sculptor Nancy Schon at
·      Make Way for Ducklings Sketchbooks were featured on PBS Antiques Roadshow at
·      Wheeler, Jill C. Robert McCloskey. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company. 2005. 24p.

Boston Central. Duckling Day Parade | Boston Central. Retrieved June 17, 2013 from

Friends of the Public Garden. (May 10, 2013). Duckling Day Parade 2013 introduces a new parade route. Retrieved June 17, 2013 from Friends of the Public Garden:

Marcus, Leonard S. (2008). Minders of make-believe: idealists, entrepreneurs, and the shaping of American children's literature. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Marcus, Leonard S. (2012). Show Me a story! why picture books matter: conversations with 21 of the world's most celebrated illustrators. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

McCloskey, Jane. (2011). Robert McCloskey: a private life in words and pictures. Illustraed by Robert McCloskey. Kittery Point, ME: Seapoint Books.

McCloskey, Robert. (1941). Make way for ducklings. Illustrated by Robert McCloskey. New York, NY: The Viking Press.

McCloskey, Robert. (2004). May way for McCloskey: a Robert McCloskey treasury. Illustrated by Robert McCloskey. New York, NY: Viking.

New England Cable News. Nancy Schon Interviewed. Retrieved June 17, 2013 from


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