Books
5:52 pm
Thu July 14, 2011

Mrs. Mallard Celebrates 70 Years Of Safer Streets

It's the 70th anniversary of the classic children's book, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. But it's perhaps only in hindsight one can see how the ducklings were revolutionaries of sorts.

Call them accidental heroes. A very pregnant Mrs. and Mr. Mallard were never looking to change the world when they came to Boston's Public Garden. They just wanted a safe place to settle down.

'She Was A Lot Braver Than I Am'

"I like this place," said Mrs. Mallard. "Why don't we build a nest and raise our ducklings right in this pond?"

But before she could lay a single egg, a truck barreled by and frightened them.

"Look out!" squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither. "You'll get run over!"

Nearly done in by "those horrid things on wheels" as she called them, Mrs. Mallard retreated. But she was gone only long enough to safely hatch her chicks and returned to assert her right to the road — which any Bostonian can tell you is a harrowing place to be.

"You're definitely taking your life into your hands," says Boston mom Elizabeth Grady. "As I'm always saying to my kids: 'Heads up, heads up!'"

Retracing Mrs. Mallard's waddle through the public garden — with just four little ones in tow — Grady confessed a new admiration for the mama duck leading her eight ducklings.

"I think she was a lot braver than I am," she says. "From the Charles [River] all the way over to here? She is quite the brave woman."

"She was just saying, 'Let's share the space, guys. We're here too,'" says Wendy Landman. Landman is the head of Walk Boston, the nation's first pedestrian rights group that continues to draw inspiration from Mrs. Mallard.

"She was certainly ahead of her time," Landman says.

Mrs. Mallard And Ducklings Still A Favorite In Boston Park

Today, across the Public Garden from other historical luminaries like George Washington, Mrs. Mallard is immortalized in bronze leading a line of Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack. All were crafted 20 years ago by sculptor Nancy Schön.

"I can't even begin to say what that means to me," Schön says. "Mrs. Mallard was really the heroine."

It's perhaps a testament to her legacy that 21st century tykes visiting the statue would never dream of being as callous as the drivers of Mrs. Mallard's day.

"I would look around if ducklings were crossing so they won't get like squished or anything," says 5-year-old Emily Greeko.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.