After having what might be considered a small tantrum about some of the classics my students had never read, I made it my mission to make sure my students were familiar with many of the older texts.
One of these books they hadn't read was Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Published in 1941, this staple of my childhood follows the delightful journey of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their ducklings as they find a safe place to live.
Make Way for Ducklings has received many accolades, including winning the Caldecott in 1942. This sweet entry into Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a Day Almanac also calls attention to this classic book.
Soon after I finished the book, one student raised his hand and asked, "So, why did Mr. Mallard just leave Mrs. Mallard when she was sitting on the eggs and teaching the ducklings?"
He was referring to the section of the plot where the father duck leaves before the ducklings hatch in order to find out what else there is to see up the river from their nest.
This began a firestorm of conversation.
"Because he's the dad! He's allowed to leave to provide for his family!"
"Nuh uh. The mom needs a vacation too."
"The mom needs to stay and sit on her eggs!"
"Yeah but the dad duck could sit on the eggs too!"
"It's like they say, 'A woman's work is never done.'" (This one cracked me up.)
During the conversation, I was half-laughing, half-very curious about the emerging talk of gender stereotypes taking hold of these nine year old kids.
I've read Make Way for Ducklings hundreds of times: to myself, to my own children, and to my students. I admit that Mr. Mallard's desire to leave has indeed crossed my mind.
So I am left with the following thoughts:
1. No matter how many times one reads a book to children, the response and reaction can never truly be predicted.
2. Stereotypes pop up in the most unpredictable places.
3. Conversations about stereotyping can and should occur in the most unexpected places.
4. Allowing children to respectfully and excitedly disagree with each other is appropriate. And needed. Controversy=engagement.
5. Community read-alouds to an entire class provides a foundation to springboard thoughts and discussions on other days and in other formats.
What classic picture books have you read recently that have similar underlying messages or issues?