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Who was your favorite childhood author and illustrator? Out front and center on my list was Robert McCloskey. I was introduced to his “Make Way for Ducklings” while in first grade in Underwood by my teacher, Mrs. Hepper. From the first time I laid my eyes on these beautiful sketches in this book, I was hooked. “Make Way for Ducklings” is a story about Mr. and Mrs. Mallard who are about to start their family and are looking for a safe harbor in which to raise their ducklings. They fly over the Charles River in Boston, Mass. and realize this would be a great place. The mallard family comes to live on an island in pond with the Public Garden.
The sepia-toned sketches which are printed on warm ivory paper let us experience the history of Boston with each turn of the page. We fly over Beacon Hill and around the State House. We get a first- class view of Louisburg Square and its unique row houses. Details spanning from reeds of grasses, rocks, arches on bridges, ladies wearing hats, and the full fender style cars of the 1940’s, invite the reader into a world that is perfectly cozy. There are detailed iron gates, scalloped awnings, humorous personalities of ducks, and so much more to behold from this classic book.
Michael the robust, friendly policeman with a handsome face has a police booth that every reader would like to step into, complete with fluted columns and a rotary telephone. We come to realize that Michael aided Mother Mallard as she waddled and wobbled across the street with her eight ducklings. His kindness as a policeman goes to the point of his feeding peanuts to the ducks. What is there not to like about this helpful and jolly policeman?
Oh, let us not forget the inspiring sketch of the swan boat which navigates the pond allowing passengers to overlook the pond and the adapted greens beyond. The ability of McCloskey’s pencil sketches infused in my young mind that this was a place I wanted to see. It also stirred in me an enormous interest to read all of his children’s books: Lentil, Homer Price, Centerburg Tales, Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder, and Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man. His charisma for pairing detailed and interesting sketches of day-to-day activities of ordinary people while creating a virtuoso storyline is timeless. His places had their geographical limits, either Ohio or New England, but his stimulating and charming discoveries in each location were boundless.
McCloskey was a gifted artist and his sketches from this book instilled in me a desire to discover the world beyond Underwood, North Dakota. I read everything I could get my hands on about Boston and the Public Garden. In time when I attended photography school in Massachusetts, I had the delight of visiting the Public Garden and seeing the elegant landscape with flower beds in colors aglow, lagoons, walking paths and statues, including a notable monument of George Washington on a horse. It was, however, the children’s story “Make Way for Ducklings” that kept running through my mind as I spent time here.
In the northeast corner of the park, sculptor Nancy Schon has created a bronze version of Mrs. Mallard and the ducklings in the Public Garden. Who would have thought that the inside cover sketches of an egg, with eight carefully drawn stages of a duck hatching would endure for a lifetime impression. McCloskey’s sketches for this book came about by his careful research and his gift for keen observation to detail. He spent time watching ducks at the Public Garden while attending the Vesper George Art School in Boston. Like countless artists, McCloskey knew the value of this observation, and he stored away and later derived for its usefulness. Years later he added to this observation by purchasing several squawking mallards and taking them to his home for more coursework. He spent several weeks following them around with his sketchbook, studying their movements, and observing their swimming in the bathtub. Because of this attention to detail, he was able to illustrate the detailed movements of his feathered friends with authenticity. He shared in public interviews that it took several tries to get the right duck names: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack. Once again, his attention to detail has made this book outstanding. It has sold over 2 million copies and received the 1942 Caldecott Medal; in 2003 it was named the official children’s book of Massachusetts.
Jan just returned from a conference in Boston, and upon returning home she presented Lydia with a copy of “Make Way for Ducklings”. Lydia is reading it with vast interest. It is pure delight to see her snuggled in bed with this book in hand. The power of reading is certainly amazing, entertaining and can plant a lifetime of curiosity in our minds. So if you want to visit the Boston Gardens from your armchair with fantastic retro sketches while sharing in the adventures of the Mallard family, get a copy of “Make Way for Ducklings”. You won’t be disappointed.
The following recipe makes a frequent appearance in New England. This recipe came from Inez, a retired waitress, who enjoyed her time at the once-eminent, Worster Hotel, in Hallowell, Maine. I had the good pleasure of meeting her while photographing in this historic town known for its culture and architecture. I came to discover Hallowell on my way to Deer Isle, where I visited the home of Robert McCloskey.
Spinach and Cheese Pie
1 large bunch of fresh dill (about 6 tablespoons chopped) Use dry if fresh is not available.
1 large bunch of parsley
2 pounds of fresh spinach
1 cup olive oil
1 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1 pound phyllo pastry (available in most freezer sections)
Marinate in olive oil chopped dill, parsley and scallions (include scallion tops). Cook spinach very briefly, pour cold water over to stop the cooking and drain well. Add thoroughly drained spinach to olive oil. Beat eggs, add crumbled cheese. Add egg and cheese mixture to spinach, oil and herbs. Line an 11x 14 baking pan with half the Phyllo pastry, brushing it well with melted butter or oil. Place spinach filling on pastry and cover with remaining pastry, again brushing well with melted butter or oil. Seal edges of pastry. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes or until well browned, let cool 10 minutes before cutting into squares. This makes 14 generous servings.
Phyllo pastry is made with a dough of high-gluten flour, water and oil that is stretched until tissue-thin, then cut into sheets for use. Phyllo is widely used in the cooking of the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Austria and Hungary. Each piece is lightly brushed with oil or melted butter before being topped with another. Work quickly, one sheet at a time; cover reserved unrolled sheets with a clean damp towel to prevent drying out. If you are looking to be creative with dough, turn to Phyllo as it can be twisted or wrapped around a sweet or savory filling; baking results in light, crisp, flaky layers. Phyllo can be made at home, but when it is commercially available frozen, go for it! Once thawed, unused sheets can be refrigerated for up to one month (do not re-freeze). Cold Phyllo is very brittle; leave it in its packaging until thawed (about 2 hours). This time-saving step will allow you to hand embroider shaded violets on your dinner napkins.
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