You know what I’m doing in grad school this semester? Aside from writing my thesis, obviously?
A class on children’s literature. Which means I get to read lots of books for 3/4 year olds. My life is awesome right now.
Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck
Written by Lisa Westberg Peters
Illustrated by Sam Williams
Greenwillow Books, Hong Kong, 2000
A Little Duck flies to the pond, only to discover that the spring hasn’t warmed up yet and the pond is still frozen. So she huddles up and thinks about all the joys of spring, until it seems like her good thoughts fill the air and spring finally arrives and the water melts. This is a story about the transition from winter to spring, and the small everyday wonders of the natural world, told through the eyes of a Little Duck who can’t wait to be able to play outside.
The creators of Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck tell a story that illustrates part of one of the natural cycles of life: the transition from winter to spring. When a child has only experienced three or four springs, the inevitability of each transition might not be obvious, but literature such as this book enables a child to observe these changes and know that (in temperate climates) cold winters inevitably turn into warm springs. Nature as a force affects the lives of all humans, and although Little Duck in this book is not a human, children are invited to identify with her and her longing for the warmth and fun of spring.
Sam Williams paints beautiful pictures throughout of Little Duck in an environment of at first a winter snowscape, then a colorful warm springtime. While Little Duck is referred to in the text as a duck, who flies in on her own, in the illustrations she is drawn as a mallard yearling, smaller than the other ducks in the story, and recognisable as a young creature. This makes her a “child in a fur coat”: three year olds will identify with Little Duck as she longs for Spring, and be able to compare it to their own experiences at wanting to do something, but being restricted because it’s not the time yet. Being an animal, and therefore one step removed from reality, Little Duck can fly into the pond on her own, and experience the discomfort of shivering in the cold and having her feet stuck to the ice, without the danger those experiences would bring to a real child.
Williams’ illustrations vary in detail with the needs of each page, sometimes playing with Little Duck’s movements, sometimes painting a detailed landscape, always providing appropriate room for interaction with Lisa Westberg Peters’ wordplay. The text is in pseudo-rhyming couplets, concerned more with rhythm and imagery than a strict rhyme (e.g. “She tucked her head into her feathers to think think think // Of Spring and warmer weather quick quick quick”). Each page or double page spread contains one line, always ending with a triple repetition of a single syllable word. Most of each line is printed in large, easily visible black font, with the repetitions in more varied appearance, font, color and layout designed to play on the meaning of the word and to interact with the pictures on the page.
This technique of repeating a word on each page gives Westberg Peters the opportunity to fill the book with wordplay that is pleasant to hear and fun to say aloud, “Drink, drink, drink”; “black black black”, “pink pink pink” “snack snack snack”. The rhythm and patterns in the words appeal to a young child’s sense of fun, and their onomatopoeic properties appeal to the primary senses through which threes and fours experience the world.
Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck is a perfect book for reading aloud, as the pictures are easy to see and fun to interpret, but the large, easily legible font can be seen by any sighted person in the classroom, so even pre-readers can see that there are words on the page that related to the pictures that they’re seeing.
This post can also be found at Thagomizer.net. Feel free to join in the conversation wherever you feel most comfortable.