It all begins because Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for a place to live. The now-famous ducks from Robert McCloskey’s 1941 classic children’s book find themselves too exhausted to fly on when they reach the Boston Common, and think, for a time, that it might be a good place to raise their ducklings. The zooming bikes ultimately frighten Mrs. Mallard away from the spot, but when Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack are born, she wants to show them the beauty of the Common. With the help of a policeman who brings traffic to a halt, the ducklings parade through downtown Boston.
McCloskey, who had received attention for his sculptures when he was just nineteen, attended art school in Boston. Though he moved to New York after graduation, the city left an impression on him. When his career as a painter proved financially unviable, he turned to children’s books, first writing Lentil, and then Make Way for Ducklings, a homage to Boston. To perfectly capture the movements of real birds, McCloskey bought a crate of live ducks and watched them walk (and swim) around his studio. Thus, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were born.
Following the publication of Make Way, McCloskey served in the army, producing technical drawings in Alabama. With the birth of his first daughter, Sally (more familiar to most as Sal, from Blueberries for Sal), the family moved to Maine, and there McCloskey wrote several other notable books, including One Morning in Maine and Time of Wonder, for which he won his second Caldecott Medal. The first, of course, was awarded to Make Way for Ducklings.
The thirty-five foot bronze statue of McCloskey’s ducklings was designed by Nancy Schön and installed in 1987. After First Lady Barbara Bush brought Raisa Gorbachev to view the statue, an identical one was created and installed in Moscow’s Novodevichy Park in 1991; it was a gift from the children of the US to the children of Russia, as part of the START Treaty. Schön said of the Boston statue, “How fortunate I am to have made this sculpture which, thanks to Mr. McCloskey, has given so much pleasure to so many.” One of those people is Sal McCloskey, who reportedly still visits the ducks.