Review of the Day: Duck, Duck, Goose
Duck, Duck, Goose by Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade (a Random House imprint). $15.99
I’m going about this a little backwards, I know. Technically I should review “Duck and Goose” first and then the sequel. However, I don’t have “Duck and Goose” sitting in front of me. I have “Duck, Duck, Goose” which, if I was to be perfectly honest with you, I like better than its predecessor. That and the fact that Duck Duck Goose was the only game in preschool I was ever very good at. Yay running and thwaping strangers on the head!
Ducks and geese are not immediately adorable creatures. Anyone who has ever been bitten by a duck or chased by a hissing goose will agree with me here. Yet due to that law of nature that states that any and all creatures must start out cute in order to survive (the sole exception being pandas), baby ducks and baby geese are nothing short of adorableness incarnate. With his first book “Duck and Goose”, author/illustrator Tad Wade went from fabulous Halloween costumer designer and husband of half of Schwartz & Wade to a star in his own right. His book was the kind of cute that everyone can agree on. There is good cute in this world and there is bad cute (ala Disney Cuties) and Mr. Hills has successfully placed his creations in the former category. His first Duck & Goose book was a well-deserved hit and now a sequel is here to follow-up the tale. If a ball was the mysterious visitor in the first book, imagine what a mysterious talking visitor could do.
Goose doesn't know it, but there's a new duck in the pasture and it goes by the name of Thistle. One day, as Goose attempts to maintain the butterfly that has landed on his head, his act of concentration is disrupted by the untimely arrival of Duck and his new friend Thistle. Thistle is a small highly-competitive duckling, and she's extraordinarily eager to show off her prowess in everything from adding to balancing sticks to hopping on one foot. Goose competes against this little challenger for a while, but he just can't seem to best her in anything. As such, he goes off to do his own thing, leaving the two ducks together. Duck, however, finds that though Thistle is admirable, she's also a bit tiring. He locates Goose once more and when their over-achieving (not to say egotistical) neighbor arrives, they have a contest to see who can fall asleep the fastest for the longest. Thistle complies and the two remaining friends go off to play with their ball, happy in the knowledge that this is one game where no one has to come off as "the best".
This will sound like an odd compliment, but I'm going to mean every word of it. Children’s books fall all too easily into the well-worn grooves of their predecessors. You have your Amelia Bedelia knock-offs, your Where the Wild Things Are knock-offs, your Eloise knock-offs, etc. The Frog and Toad knock-offs are what I’m thinking of in this particular case. Lots of books feature two friends where one is perpetually grumpy and the other perpetually sunny. One worries and the other flits about. I can think of five different books off the top of my head that fit this formula, and without having read this book you might think that the Duck and Goose qualify for this stereotype. What makes Mr. Hills work so remarkable, however, is that he’s managed to put a great deal of characterization into Duck, Goose, and Thistle without complicating his narrative or making it overly familiar. Goose would seemingly be a perfect candidate for grouchiness, but there’s a subtlety to his low-key enthusiasm. Goose is not pleased with the appearance of Thistle, but he has the wherewithal to keep such thoughts to himself. When Thistle grows too intolerable a personality to hang out with any longer, Goose simply leaves and does his own thing. He may be jealous of Duck’s admiration of this new friend, but he doesn’t dwell on it. Kids will undoubtedly feel Goose’s jealousy for him, but because he doesn’t make a federal case out of it, Duck soon sees how Thistle is just a bit “much” and is quick to join his old friend once more. And though this isn’t a moralizing book, “Duck, Duck, Goose” teaches kids a very subtle lesson. Think your best friend’s new pal is annoying? Give your buddy some space and that fact will soon be apparent to them as well. I also enjoyed the fact that right from the start it becomes clear that all of Thistle’s posturing is probably overcompensation for her diminutive size. Her scream of “I’m not little” at the story’s beginning is an excellent example of how a picture book author can give characters full three-dimensional personalities with a minimum of wordplay.
The art of Tad Hills is just a joy as well. As with its predecessor, “Duck, Duck, Goose begins with dreamy endpapers that begin and end our tale from a distance. Here is the meadow, the lily pond, and the shady thicket where everything takes place. Here, at the start, is Goose standing stock still with a butterfly perched on his head. And in the distance you can see Duck and Thistle talking, just before they rush in and disrupt Goose’s complacency. Duck and Goose are their regular cute selves, but Thistle is an interesting addition. She is smaller than the other resident fowls and tries to make up for it by moving posing, and dancing about as much as she possibly can. The cover is a beautiful example of the façade she puts on. And can I say, by the way, that I loved that the ending of this book wasn’t one where Thistle stops showing off and befriends Goose? That would have been SO easy for the author to do, and at the same time it would have been dull as dishwater to read. Instead, the two friends leave Thistle asleep under a bush and go play by themselves. That way, kids who grow to really dislike Thistle will cheer on her being left behind and kids who adore Thistle will see her nap as a way of winning a contest yet again. Ah, but back to the art. Bright clear colors, great expressions, and visual gags like a near-unconscious Goose conked out after losing a hold-your-breath contest make this book just a sheer pleasure to page through.
Some kids will undoubtedly bemoan the all-too-brief appearance of Bluebird in this book. After having established herself as the voice of reason in the first tale, it would have been nice to give her a little more page time here. Mr. Hills, however, is undoubtedly well-aware of this and I’m sure that once this book becomes the hit it is bound to be, he’ll give the Bluebird her moment to shine in the sun. Until then, no one’s going to complain at all about having more fun with Duck and Goose. It has all the elements of a classic picture book and, I dare say, is better than the first in the series. A must-have purchase if I ever saw one.
On shelves February 13, 2007.