Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons

We often search for many years to find a fam­i­ly who accepts us, pro­tects us, and offers the love for which we yearn. Some of us are born into fam­i­lies like that, while oth­ers seek that fam­i­ly out­side our relatives.

For ani­mals, there are true sto­ries of one species adopt­ing the young of anoth­er, but it is rare that two species who are “kind of ene­mies” in nature come togeth­er as family. 

Finding Family

The Loon Project, based in Min­neso­ta and Wis­con­sin, dis­cov­ered a loon fam­i­ly car­ing for a mal­lard duck­ling. From May to August 2019, researchers record­ed obser­va­tions and doc­u­ment­ed pho­tos of a loon cou­ple whose own off­spring dis­ap­peared and their care and feed­ing of a baby duckling.

This book, Find­ing Fam­i­ly: The Duck­ling Raised by Loons, writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, is out­stand­ing for sev­er­al rea­sons. Telling this sto­ry in free form verse with essen­tial word choic­es, evokes won­der, car­ing, and tears. She address­es unan­swer­able ques­tions with the refrain “Nobody knows.”

It suc­ceeds as a read-out-loud and lap-sit­ting sto­ry, a pic­ture book for old­er read­ers, a nature book, and most espe­cial­ly a sci­ence book that helps us under­stand that so many aspects of life don’t have answers.

Square­ly based on research with pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources, as well as knowl­edge gained while writ­ing her own Secrets of the Loon with pho­tog­ra­ph­er Charles Day­ton (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press), this book will also serve as a men­tor text. How does an author deal with unan­swered ques­tions? How does one find the ten­sion in a true sto­ry? How does word choice make this nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion of the best kind?

Alexan­dria Neon­akis, born and raised in Nova Sco­tia, cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Los Ange­les, cre­at­ed dig­i­tal illus­tra­tions in a palette of blues, greens, and browns that are soft and watery, adding details that set us firm­ly with­in the nat­ur­al world of water birds. Her loons and duck­ling are com­plete­ly bird-like and yet there are moments of tenderness.

Finding Family
illus­tra­tion © Alexan­dria Neon­akis, from Find­ing Fam­i­ly,
writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, pub­lished Mill­brook Press

While the text rais­es the ques­tion of the future, it tells us that “Moth­er and Father and Duck­ling have only now,” and the dou­ble-page spread is alight with fire­flies against the back­drop of night on a north­ern lake. Fire­flies are very much a part of “now.” The final spread is filled with the pos­si­bil­i­ty offered by the morn­ing light.

The back mat­ter shares the true sto­ry, points out the many dif­fer­ences between mal­lards and loons, and helps us under­stand why the “intrud­er” in the sto­ry brought so much dan­ger. A bib­li­og­ra­phy and fur­ther read­ing list will help read­ers who can’t get enough of loons car­ry on their own discoveries.

High­ly recommended.

Find­ing Fam­i­ly:
The Duck­ling Raised by Loons

writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
illus­trat­ed by Alexan­dria Neon­akis
Mill­brook Press, 7 March 2023
sug­gest­ed for ages 4 and old­er
ISBN 978 – 1728442990

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Laura Purdie Salas
1 year ago

Thank you for this beau­ti­ful, thought­ful review, Vicki!

David LaRochelle
1 year ago

It sounds like a won­der­ful, care­ful­ly researched and craft­ed book, which is no sur­prise since it came from Laura.