Make Way for Ducklings – Boston’s Mother’s Day Parade

The delightful, humorous book, “Make Way for Ducklings,” written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, was first published in 1941 and declared the official children’s book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2000. With a sale of over two million copies, the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their eight ducklings has become a household favorite around the world. McCloskey was awarded the 1942 Caldecot Medal for his appealing illustrations of the Mallard family of ducks, who resembled small children in their behavior.

The story begins when Mr. and Mrs. Mallard leave the island in the Charles River to seek a proper home for their brood. Although their route in Boston takes them from Beacon Hill past the Massachusetts State House and Louisburg Square, they are unable to agree on the best location, and by nightfall decide to rest in the lagoon of the Public Garden. Here, the Mallards encounter a passing swan boat, which they mistake for a real bird, but gladly accept the bread thrown to them from the passengers. After the eight ducklings, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack are born, Mr. Mallard decides to explore and venture further up the river. Mrs. Mallard remains at home to take care of the baby ducks, along with their friend Michael, the policeman, who supplies them with peanuts. Since they have agreed to meet at the Public Garden in a week, Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings leave the island for the shore. Michael is there to stop the traffic on the highway, Embankment Road, and the flock continues south down Mount Vernon Street to Charles Street. At the intersection of Beacon Street, four friendly policemen protect the family and they arrive safely to meet Mr. Mallard at their permanent home.

Since 1978, the duckling day parade, a Boston tradition sponsored by the Historic Neighborhoods of Boston, takes place on Mother’s Day. Perhaps the chosen day reflects Mrs. Mallard as head of household, what some have supposed is the basic theme of McCloskey’s book. In any event, entire families, parents, grandparents, and siblings, join in the fun of the parade. Each family’s entrance fee is $15.00 and children register and receive a toy duck at the Shaw Memorial on Beacon Street across from the State House. Led by the Harvard Marching Band, the line of tiny tots trails along from the Boston Common to the Public Garden, dressed up in their favorite duckling costume, or a few come as Michael the policeman. Some are old enough to walk; others are pushed in a stroller by Mom or Dad, and some are carried as they follow the route taken by Mrs. Mallard and her flock. As another duckling day parade in Boston comes to an end, children line up for their chance to sit on the bronze ducks, or to take a swan boat ride around Mallard Island. Swan boat rides are $2.75 for adults, children 2-15, $1.25, and seniors $2.00. Rides are open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. thru Labor Day.

In 1987, the 150th anniversary of the Boston Public Garden, Nancy Schon was commissioned by the Friends of the Garden to sculpt Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings. Carefully stored during the winter and brought out in early spring, the mother duck and her family reside “all in a row” that spans 35 feet across the cobblestones in the Garden.

Note: The U.S. gave a similar set of statues to the children of the Soviet Union in 2000.

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