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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Duck at the Door
Duck at the Door
written and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
HarperCollins Children's Books,(January 2007)
Irene brought the duck inside.
"My name is Max," he began. "I was born in the spring, and I loved it. I stayed behind when my flock flew south because I thought I'd love winter too. But it turned out to be COLD and very lonely.
"Winter isn't so bad when you have a warm home," said Irene.
--Duck at the Door, by Jackie Urbanovic, p. 10-11.
What happens when a cold, lonely duck knocks on your door in the middle of a winter night? In Duck at the Door, the kind multi-animal-and-one-human family welcome him in. Max the duck stays all winter, learning things like how to read, drink from a cup, and use the remote on the TV. Max starts hogging the remote, making his own recipes for others to eat, and getting on the others' nerves, but just as they get ready to talk to him, Max hears his flock and leaves. The others discover that they're lonely and bored without Max, and they miss him, so when winter comes back around and there's a knock on the door, they all hope it's Max. But they're in for a surprise—it's not just Max who's at their door.
This is a funny, warm book about friendship, generosity, and accepting others, written with humor and heart. The text reads well, and there's a good sense of story throughout. However, the beginning text does not seem to fit the rest, especially with the use of onomatopoeia without story text on the second page; I feel like I'm left with an unfinished sentence. The short sentences at the beginning also feel awkward. But once the family finds Max at the door, the story moves forward strongly and quickly; for me, this is where the story really takes off.
Urbanovic's text skillfully holds back detail, allowing the reader to figure out some of what's happening through the illustrations (such as what Max initially has to learn, or how much the animals miss him after he's left), and this trust in the reader is refreshing. Strong threads of love, acceptance, and friendship are woven throughout the story, such as when Irene first gives Max a home, and when Irene welcomes Max back in the end.
There is a nice rhythm to the text, and a pleasing repetition of the passing months combined with Max's accomplishments, and then later of what the animals miss when Max is gone. The mixture of humor and caring throughout result in an uplifting, appealing story. Urbanovic deftly makes the text's humor work with the illustrations, using the straight-man approach and deliberate statements while the illustrations show us what's really going on, and are all the more funny because of the text. For instance, when it's said that Max discovers he has a flair for cooking, we see him standing on a stool in the messy kitchen, watching a cooking show while stirring a bowl and slopping food all over the place.
The focus of viewpoint in the text moves from the animals in the house, to Irene, to watching Max and his accomplishments, to the animals without Max, and then back to Irene and Max. It doesn't feel strongly in one character, though Max is clearly the star of the book. I would have preferred the text to be more firmly cemented in Max's story, or one character. But this does not detract from the enjoyment or humor of the book.
Urbanovic's watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are cartoon-like, cute but not overly so, and each character or type of animal has their own personality. The duck looks adorable, and is the focus of the illustrations. The cozy animal family, consisting of cats, a rabbit, a cockatoo and smaller parrot, a squirrel, and multiple breeds of dogs shows diversity, acceptance, and affection; they are all one big happy family (a cat and rabbit are shown sleeping against a big dog, and all the animals act together). Pet owners will get a knowing chuckle over the animals standing on top of their human to wake her up.
The story illustrations really begin on the inside title page, then continue on the inside copyright and acknowledgment pages, adding backstory before the text has even begun. Most of the illustrations bleed right to the edges of the paper, many showing one scene over a spread, while others, especially those showing multiple scenes on one page or those highlighting an emotional moment, have white space around them (drawing attention to them). The double page spreads are especially captivating. The first spread ingeniously divides the two images yet flows together, using greys, whites, and shadow to show Max out in the cold outside the house, with warm washes of brown to show the warmth inside the house, and the animals reacting to Max's knock on the door.
The humor in the illustrations is wonderful, with many silly scenes, such as Max the duck lounging back in a purple dog bed, remote in one wing, bowl of popcorn at the other, or diving into the tub where Irene (the human) is having a bath, complete with bubbles and Max's six rubber ducks. There are also some tender and poignant moments depicted, such as when Brody the dog deeply misses Max and is sadly staring at one of Max's feathers and a rubber ducky, or when Irene hugs Max to her. The text and the illustrations work well together, each building on the other and merging harmoniously. The laugh-out-loud ending, where hundreds of ducks all enter the house, taking over, is also heartwarming as Irene hugs Max and welcomes him and his flock in.
There is a good use of shadows to bring attention to the main focus of each illustration, and texture makes fuzzy objects look appropriately fuzzy. Small details add depth to the story, such as the photo of Max that we see hanging on the wall when Max leaves them, toys scattered about the house for various animals showing how much they are cared for, and so on.
This is a funny, loving book that subtly reminds readers that friendship is important, that families can be made up of friends or of individuals who aren't the same, and that there is a place for each of us in this world. It encourages readers to reach out to others. Highly recommended.
-Added February 2007
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