One Little Duck by Katrina Germein

Reviewed by Gerard Healy

A charming and engaging variation on the well-known “Five Little Ducks” story suitable for younger pre-schoolers and the adults in their lives.

The text by Katrina Germein is most appropriate for younger readers and it is beautifully complimented by Danny Snell’s wonderful illustrations.

If you have younger children in your lives you’re probably familiar with the Five Little Ducks song. Mother duck goes out with her five little ducklings one day, but when she calls them back (Quack, quack, quack), only four ducklings return. The next time only three return and so on over subsequent outings. Finally, they all return safely to Mother duck. Their whereabouts during these absences is left unclear in most versions but the important point for children is that there is a happy resolution to the story.

This positive outcome is an essential feature of young children’s literature and it is replicated here in this delightful story. As Germein herself says, “Books with happy endings give children hopeful hearts.”

One Little Duck starts with a young duck going out one day into the countryside, which is close to a body of water. However, when mother duck calls the young duck back she uses a different animal sound each time. And it’s this animal that accompanies the young duck back home; thus a moo, moo call means a cow comes back and so on. This pattern repeats until a total of six barnyard friends come back home with the young duck. Mother duck feeds these new-found friends and she doesn’t appear to fuss or complain about this task either.

A novel quirk of this story is the structure that Mother duck lives in. From one perspective it looks too small to accommodate the growing crowd of barnyard friends that gather companionably inside to share a meal. Perhaps it has a Tardis-like dimension we’re unaware of.  Then again, maybe if the heart is generous enough, space can be found for all.

There are other subtle messages sprinkled throughout the text: everyone is welcomed into the duck’s house and friends come in all shapes and sizes. Additionally, all the animals help set up the campsite and they share a bedtime story in the tent (Three Little Pigs). They also brave the inclement weather on one occasion.

There is a bond of love between the duck and the mother, shown by the lovely illustration at the end.

Children with sharper eyes than most may pick up some sight gags: the cow, who wears a scarf, making the kitchen bench tilt up due to its weight, the umbrella bent out of shape after the windy excursion and the chicken riding a bicycle.

These visually acute readers may also notice the increasing amounts of food that mother duck is providing to the growing crowd.  The other visual cue that may be picked up is the sight of the next animal to be called, somewhere in the current picture.

For those young readers with a good ear for rhyming pairs there are multiple examples: day / away; moo / too; cluck / duck, etc.

Mother Duck’s apparent mistake of calling out the incorrect sound for her duckling to respond to, also gives a clue as to which new animal friend is returning. Thus, when she calls baa, baa we learn the sheep is coming back and so on.

One interesting aspect of the young duck is that it is gender neutral and consequently all children can identify with the character.

Another element of the story to note is the reference to Mother duck’s sadness near the story’s conclusion. Are young children aware that the adults in their lives can also feel down at times? It may be worth pointing that out and of course the way that the return of the young duck turns things around so positively.

Where does this story rank in the pantheon of great (pre-school) children’s literature? It’s possibly not quite in the league of classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle or Mem Fox’s Possum Magic but whatever its ranking, I would definitely recommend this book to younger readers and their carers.

Katrina Germein grew up in Adelaide, South Australia and has a B. Ed and a Masters in Early Childhood Education. She taught at a remote school in the NT and used her experiences to write Big Rain Coming (1999). She has also written  My Dad Thinks He’s Funny (2010), which was shortlisted for several awards. Her title Let’s Go Strolling (2018) won the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award.

Danny Snell grew up in Adelaide and has a design degree from Uni of South Australia. He has illustrated over a dozen children’s books and has won several awards including for Jeremy (2013) CBCA Information Book of the Year and The Fire Wombat (2021) written by Jackie French (a CBCA Notable book). Snell has also written and illustrated books, his first being Seagull (2016).

One Little Duck

(2023)

by Katrina Germein (author) and Danny Snell (illustrator)

HarperCollins

ISBN: 978 146076 164 9

$22.99; 32pp

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