Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck
What’s a cold little duck to do when she races the spring thaw to her home pond and wins? She could shiver, slip, slide, and shake, or think lovely, warm thoughts until nature comes through and brings the pond splashing and quacking to life once again.
Lisa Westberg Peters, illus. Sam Williams, Greenwillow, 2000.
32 pages, ages 4-8. ISBN: 0688161782
The Story Behind the Story
Lucky Duck: Local writer has found success with her children’s books
St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 15, 2001
In the winter of 1986, an idea was hatched on Lake Como when St. Paul writer Lisa Westberg Peters saw a mallard alone on the ice. Peters filed away her impression of the unlucky duck among her collection of story ideas.
Ten years later, Peters pulled out her file and chose to write a short book inspired by the mallard. “Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck” is a children’s picture book about a duck who flies home too early, only to find that her pond is frozen. The heroine is encouraged by a bear to go “back, back, back.” Instead, she thinks of spring and soon finds herself in warmer weather.
Peters’ story was recently named a 2001 Notable Book by the American Library Association — a designation given to about 20 titles for young readers each year. It has just been adapted for British readers and will soon appear in other languages as well.
Though the book is as thick as a pencil and only 206 words, it took two years to complete. But Peters says she wouldn’t have done it any differently.
“I don’t think I’d trust a story on the first shot,” says Peters of the 20 drafts that she made before reaching·a final product.
Peters’ editor at Greenwillow Books is pleased with the results. “Some people write a book in an afternoon, and it could take a person 10 years to write another book. There’s no formula,” says Virginia Duncan. “I think that every single word has to be perfect.”
To achieve that perfection, illustrator Sam Williams worked with Greenwillow Press as the story evolved. Williams’ inspiration for the look of the protagonist came from the inhabitants of a pond near his home in St. Albans, a small city 20 miles north of London, England. Though Williams and Peters never communicated directly with each other, Peters was pleased with the illustrations.
At first, the story of the little duck had a more morbid premise. The little duck was to lay a frozen egg with a frozen duckling inside. Peters abandoned that premise a year later because it had no immediate tension.
Though Peters has published 12 books, including “Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck,” most of her·story ideas remain unpublished. Beneath rows of bookshelves lay about 6 feet worth of manuscripts and ideas that have never made it to press because they were rejected by publishers or because they have yet to be developed.
Drawing from her curiosity about the world around her, Peters carries a notebook to record observations about everything from the bunnies that eat her garden to the carbon cycle — both ideas are topics of stories that she is working on.
Many of her 12 published children’s books were based on scientific topics — especially with geographic themes. “The Sun, the Wind and the Rain,” published in 1988, received recognition as an “Outstanding Science Trade Book” from the National Science Teachers Association.
Peters started writing children’s books 17 years ago, when she stopped taking naps with her. daughters, Anna and Emily, who were then 1 and 3. Peters, whose husband works at the Pioneer Press, thought that the themes of her children’s books would grow up with her daughters. She was surprised to find that they didn’t. “Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck” is for ages four and older, and Peters’ daughters are now attending college.
In her latest book, Peters says that it is up to the reader to decide whether spring arrived because of the duck’s powerful thoughts or because of nature’s design. Of course, she has her own ideas about it. To her, the duck’s wishes brought on spring.
The Horn Book, July/Aug 2000, starred review
When a duck returns to her frozen pond too early in the season, a friendly bear tells her to go “back back back.” But this forward-thinking little duck, her feet stuck to the ice, thinks, thinks, thinks—of spring, of “wiggly worms and shiny beetles,” of pink flowers and “squishy mud.” And before she knows it, her warm thoughts are filling the sky, welcoming other ducks, and spreading springtime all over. Peters’s poetic text is displayed in a large-sized, heavy, black typeface, which invites letter and word recognition and demands as much listener attention as the cheerful story and illustrations. Contrasting with the bold type of the main text are the colorful and playful typefaces used for the three-word rhythmic refrains that follow the text on each page or double-page spread (e.g., “flock flock flock” is set to mirror an illustration of a V of ducks overhead). Subsequent readings will encourage enthusiastic participation as the repeated words become more familiar. The text is well served by Williams’s expressive pencil and watercolor paintings. Quick, deftly sketched lines and subtle shadings of springtime colors suggest the emergent landscape and shifting mood. Williams’s little duck, while true to her waterfowl nature, is full of character and toddlerlike exuberance. Story, art, and design work together well, and there’s plenty here to engage duck-loving preschoolers preparing to dive into words and reading.
Copyright © 2000 The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved.
Publisher’s Weekly, March 20, 2000, starred review
In this visually sumptuous testimony to patience and the power of positive thinking, a brown duckling arrives back at her pond a bit too early for spring. Her feet stick to the frozen water—”stuck stuck stuck”—the brisk air makes her “shake shake shake.” But when she concentrates hard on all the wonderful things that warm weather will bring—”crocuses and apple-buds/And blades of grass in squishy mud”—a flock of ducks appears in the sky, with spring right on their webbed heels. With tightly composed vignettes and watercolor spreads, British artist Williams depicts a landscape on the verge of transformation. In the opening pages, his purple skies and expanses of white convey both the physical and spiritual chill of winter; when spring blossoms forth, the pages pulse with heartwarming blues, yellows and greens. Peters’s (October Smiled Back) rhythmic text set in huge, elegant type and punctuated on each page by the graphic treatment of a single-syllable evocative verb, acts as just the right introduction to the change of seasons. For example, a spread featuring the text “The ducks flew down, they dipped and splashed” also shows the words “dunk dunk dunk” bobbing in the water, circling a duck with its backside protruding from the pond. All told, a wonderful answer to the perennial question: “Will spring ever get here?”
Copyright © 2000, Publisher’s Weekly
Kirkus Reviews, 4/1/00, starred review
A little duck learns the power of positive thinking in this salute to spring. Returning to her pond, the world’s cutest duck discovers that winter has not yet relinquished its frigid hold on the area. With her little feet stuck to the ice, the frosty fowl endeavors to hasten the arrival of spring by thinking warm thoughts. As if awakened by the sheer willpower of the duck, spring arrives, bringing balmy breezes to melt the icy pond as well as a flock of her feathered friends. Peters’s (October Smiled Back, 1997) verses sing a duck’s ode to vernal season: “Of crocuses and apple buds/ And blades of grass in squishy mud.” The sprightly, rhyming verses are featured in oversized black lettering. Cleverly incorporated into the illustrations is a subtext highlighting the action of each page: “Of wiggly worms and shiny beetles—black, black, black. And blades of grass in squishy mud—snack, snack, snack.” Children will readily join in on these lively chants, making this a rollicking read-aloud experience. Williams’s soft watercolors fill the pages, capturing the splendor of spring, impossibly fluffy little ducklings frolicking about, azure skies, and fresh green fields. A charming tale on its own, this is also a great way to introduce the wonder of the changing seasons to children. Sweet, sweet, sweet. (Picture book, 3-6)
Copyright © 2000, Kirkus Reviews