Friday, January 25, 2008

The Waddler Who Wintered Over: Duck at the Door by Janet Urbanovic

Jackie Urbanovic's ebullient Duck at the Door starts the fun right on the title page, which shows a weary, wayworn wanderer of a little mallard trudging, head down, through the deep and driving blizzard, a dollop of snow on his head.
This duck, it seems, has been channeling the grasshopper in the old Aesop's fable, floating lazily back at the lovely pond while his more diligent flock members are flapping up the migratory flyways. Now, with snow blowing and no Wellingtons on his little webbed feet, he's looking for a home for the winter.

This duck is in luck. The door he knocks upon is opened by Irene, a pleasant middle-aged woman who apparently loves animals, since the door opens to a cozy, fire lit living room which she shares with a menagerie of animals, ranging from St. Bernard Brody to parakeet BeBe, with at least 4 cats, a hare, a parrot, and three more dogs.

"My name is Max, says the duck. "I though I'd love winter, but it turned out to be cold and very lonely."

"Winter isn't so bad when you have a warm home," Irene says, hospitably bringing Max in and holding the frozen little mallard close.

Max adapts well to group life, hogging the easy chair, television and remote, much to the exasperation of the other pets. By February Max even becomes an amateur chef, chopping and sauteing right along with the cable cooking show gurus. By March, he's made himself totally at home, swan-diving off Irene's head into her bubble bath with his flock of rubber duckies.

In fact, Max takes up a lot of space--his own and everyone else's personal space, it seems. The dogs are tired of watching Max's endless reruns on TV; Dakota, Coco, and Jesse Bear the cats are tired of eating his Tofu Surprise and poor old Brody is just plain tired of sharing his doggy bed with Max. "Someone has to talk to Max," they all think, looking meaningfully at Irene.

But hark! Are those quacks we hear? Irene is saved by the flock--the return of Max's flock, which has him out the door and off to the pond in two shakes of his tail feathers, leaving Irene holding his chef's hat and Brody riding herd on his rubber duckies. The residents spread out gratefully as a tofu-free silence falls pleasantly over the house.

But soon, it seems, Max is missed by all. It's cat food, cat food, cat food every day for the cats, and with no one to fight with over the remote, watching TV isn't a thrill for the dogs. Brody is reduced to brooding over a single mallard feather left behind in his beloved dog bed.

Just when things are looking dismal for Irene and her menagerie, there's a knock on the door. "Max!" they all cry, and throw the door open, only to find the prodigal duck and his entire flock ready to move in for the whole winter. All Irene can say is "Welcome Home!"

Urbanovic's illustrations for Duck at the Door are simply hilarious, with the faces of Irene and her pet posse telling the story of the mallard home invasion with subtle humor. A great read-aloud for groups or one child, this one is bound to take its place as a standard seasonal story for the picture book crowd.

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