Sibling competition is muffled beneath the wings of loving Mama Duck in this oblique pondside parable.
Though the first duckling to hatch, Feather is the most insecure. “I AM big,” she boasts, lording it over her drooping younger brother Flap. “I am full of bigness.” But then, out of the third, oddly humongous egg in the clutch, comes Spike—a massive green dinosaur whose first, roared word says it all: “BIG!” The tension continues as Feather’s claim to be “sweeter” after bringing Mama a flower is trumped when Spike lumbers up with an entire flowering tree (“SWEET!”) and culminates, after a splashy dip in the pond, with all three sibs wet and shivering. “That won’t do,” says Mama. “Who wants a cuddle?” In the ensuing cozy scene, as throughout, Vidal’s large, soft-edged, broadly curved figures create an underlying visual harmony that takes the edge off the trio’s rivalry. But not only does Spike’s outsized presence arrest a slide into blandness, occasional touches such as a final view of Mama Duck with a watering can, sprinkling the pond greenery, add further whimsical elements. Moreover, Mama Duck’s equal and unfeigned delight with all three of her hatchlings sits at the story’s center, serving as both a worthy model for parents and potential reassurance for sibs unsure of their places in the family pecking order.
Ultimately, with differences at least temporarily forgotten, everyone here is, as Spike puts it, “HAPPY!” (Picture book. 3-5)