Literary Guide for Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings”

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, is our featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource series.  Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of the Mallard family – made up of a mama duck, a papa duck, and eight little ducklings with silly rhyming names. After investigating New England’s rural landscape, the Mallards decide that the countryside is filled with too many threatening predators for their liking (and for the safety of their future ducklings). They settle, instead, in busy Boston, and hatch their eggs amongst skyscrapers and busy streets. Once the ducklings are born, readers travel throughout the city with them, experiencing all of the excitement that Boston has to offer from a duckling’s perspective, and discover – with the Mallards – that city life presents its own unique set of obstacles, just like country life. Their main problem? Cars won’t stop for the family to cross the street! Luckily, the Mallards find a friendly police officer to help them, which leads to citywide police escorts helping to ensure their safety…

Of course, stories about Boston are a great choice for kiddos growing up in western Massachusetts – tales about the city can accompany family trips to the eastern part of the state, and can help kids learn about urban environments before heading out to encounter them. Make Way for Ducklings combines an opportunity to learn about cities with animals, something that all children are fascinated by. In pairing the two, McCloskey has combined aspects of rural life (ducklings!) with city living, and the contrast between the two presents an opportunity for families to examine the differences (and similarities) between the two. After reading the story, talk about the type of habitat in which ducks are typically found and how it might be different from the habitat in which the Mallard family lives in Boston. Then, compare your own human habitat to that of other people who live in the city. Children can begin to think about the things that are constant between habitats (and human communities) such as access to food, shelter, etc. while comparing and contrasting these things.

A family reading of the book would also be perfect when paired with a late summer day trip to the city itself! The Boston Public Garden is home to a set of bronze statues by Nancy Schön of the Mallard family – kids who have read the story will love to stop by and visit the statue versions of the story’s characters! While exploring the city, try recreating some of the family’s travels, following the route that the Mallards took while enjoying the safety provided to them by their policemen friends. Map out the Mallards’ route on a tourist-style city map before you visit, and work on map skills and your children’s sense of direction by using the route you chart to guide your adventure.

In addition to learning about Boston, the story can be used to help young students develop skills in reading fluently and in identifying rhyming words. This downloadable literature guide, written for use with first and second grade students, includes outlines for activities that call for readers to create their own list of rhyming family names, write a new adventure for the Mallard family, and gain practice reading aloud. The guide also includes suggestions for post-reading discussions about the historical context of the story, the book’s illustrations (which received a Caldecott Medal), protecting animals, and the relationship that animals have with humans when they live so close to each other. Copies of Make Way for Ducklings are available at libraries all over western Massachusetts!


Hilltown Families weekly Summer Reading Resource series shares downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion questions, art projects, outdoor adventures, and many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for use at home for supplemental education. Featured titles cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics, some are lesser-known gems – but all of the books present potential for helping families build upon the stories that they read together. — Interested in featuring this series at your local library or school? Email Sienna at

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