The book I wish everyone would read:
I love Make Way for Ducklings written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, and I wish every parent and child would read this ageless picture book together. Why do I love Make Way for Ducklings? Let me start with the fact that my family is from Boston and Make Way for Ducklings takes place in the city of Boston. In particular, the story focuses on Boston’s Public Gardens, which is one of my favorite parks in the whole country.
McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, first published in 1941, is a warm-hearted duck-family classic of two mallard-parents looking for a safe home for their growing brood. It’s not easy to find such a safe home for ducks in the middle of a city.
Once the ducklings hatch and Mrs. Mallard teaches her children to swim in the Charles River, it’s time to brave Boston streets and find their way to the Public Gardens, the designated spot to meet up with Mr. Mallard. Crossing a Boston street for either person or duck can be challenging. One must beware of the “Boston driver.” With winding, narrow streets and rushing traffic, true Boston drivers understand the unwritten rules of the road, such as “allow” at least three cars to run a red light before the next car stops. No wonder Mrs. Mallard needs the help of Policeman Michael to help her ducklings safely cross the road.
Once Mrs. Mallard and her brood make the trek to the Public Garden gates, the family can relax, for there in the lagoon on “duck island” is Mr. Mallard, welcoming his family to their new home. The island is lovely, but it’s the Swan Boats as well as real ducks that make me smile. I love riding on the Swan Boats around the lagoon-pond, peddled by a strong-legged guide. I can sit back and enjoy the trees and gardens against a cloudless blue sky, and their reflections in the water.
A few steps away is Nancy Schon’s “Make Way for Ducklings” bronze sculpture. Mrs. Mallard and ducklings Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack waddle in place, their polished feathers glowing from years of young children riding on their backs. Depending on the holiday or events, Mrs. Mallard and ducklings will be dressed in costume.
The last time I was in Boston was just after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died. In deference, each duck wore a Ruth Bader Ginsberg collar — and a mask, since we were still dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Make Way for Ducklings was published just as the United States entered World War II. Every family prayed to be reunited with fathers, brothers, sons who had signed up to fight in a devasting war. The mallard family reunion must have resonated with parents and children back then. My own father was one of the “lucky ducks” who came home alive to his Boston family after deadly fighting in Germany. Like the mallard duck family, I can see Dad strolling through the Public Gardens and sighing, “I’m finally home.”
My philosophy is …
“Take in the good.” I haven’t always had this attitude on life, but it serves me well now.
I grew up in a family philosophy that was half optimistic, with my father’s “work hard and you will succeed,” and my mother’s “be suspicious, not everyone is looking out for you.”
Perhaps the mix of those two philosophies is realistic, but it took years to discern my own approach to life, which now I can tell you is this: Keep your mind and heart open. Find a path to forgiveness. Travel. Make as many friends from around the world as you can. Our planet is the only one we have. Embrace it. Care for it. Be a citizen of the world. Let’s come together and make this world a more peaceful place.
Proudest moment in my career …
Well, I have to say it is when my nonfiction YA Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story was longlisted for a National Book Award in 2016 and I was invited to the National Book Award Festival in Miami, Florida. There I was on stage with some very big names in literature. I had to pinch myself. It seemed like a dream.
I never thought I would …
Here’s how I would finish that sentence: I never thought I would travel to the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania on a safari and see herds of zebra, giraffe, gazelles grazing, hippos wallowing in muddy rivers, lions sleeping on rocks, elephants caring for their little ones. In 1981, ours was an amazing journey. My husband and I camped out all through the Serengeti. 1981 is a long time ago, but I still remember each day vividly. It was a trip I had always wanted to take ever since I was ten years old and spent a day in the Natural History Museum in New York City. “Someday,” I said to my ten-year-old self, “I want to go to Africa,” but as a little girl, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen.
If I could say one thing to my twenty-years-younger self, it would be:
“Forget the five-year plan, imagine instead.” Who do you want to be, inside and out?
Work towards that vision.
I tell myself every day …
It’s a new day. What’s one small step forward I can take to make this day count?
The bravest thing I’ve ever done…
The bravest thing I’ve ever done, was not hitch-hiking in Mexico, or whitewater canoeing during the Vermont spring run-off, or even living in Hong Kong for a year. The bravest thing I’ve ever done was fly to Nagasaki, Japan to interview a woman who survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb at the end of WWII as a little six-year-old and write her story. To enter Sachiko’s story of surviving nuclear war took all the courage I could muster and all the hope that I could conjure up inside me to believe I could actually capture in a book what had happened to her.
The piece of clothing in my closet I can’t let go:
When I was fifteen years old, my family hosted two young, beautiful Korean women, whose university choir was on tour and visiting the U.S. I can’t remember how they arrived in our home for a two-night stay, but I do remember one scene: One of the young women and I were talking in my bedroom. She laid out two hanboks, traditional Korean dresses, on my bed and asked which one I liked most. Each dress was made in the traditional pattern, full length to the floor, with a high white band across the chest, thin straps over the shoulder, covered by a matching short jacket with long, open sleeves. One dress was blue satin, the other pink with golden and silver threads woven through and around a background of flowers. I pointed to the pink, gold and silver one and said it was beautiful. “Try it on,” said the young woman. “It will fit you.” I looked at the dress then at the young woman who was about my height and size. “Please,” the young woman lifted the dress up to me. “My grandmother will be so happy. She made this dress.” Who could resist dress up? I dropped my clothes and pulled the hanbok over my head. The young woman helped fasten me up. All smiles, I carefully walked downstairs for a fashion show for my parents. I twirled around and took a bow. When I returned to my bedroom, I thanked the young woman and began to take off the dress. “It is yours,” the young woman said. “It is my thank you to your family. My grandmother will be so happy to know her dress is our gift.” I was speechless. By the expression on the young woman’s face, I realized my innocent dress-up game had meant something quite different to my Korean guest. The dress was mine. That was final. Some fifty years later, the pink hanbok with gold and silver threads still hangs in my closet. The grandmother who made the dress has surely passed on to the next world. Her granddaughter who gave me the dress may be a grandmother herself. But the pink hanbok with gold and silver threads remains unworn, unaltered, unchanged, cloaked in the memory of that scene in my bedroom and the sound of the only Korean word I remember, gamsahabnida—thank you.
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. I’ve been trying to deepen my understanding of how our bodies, nervous system, and our brains have helped or hurt ourselves and each other as we work for racial connection and healing.
My favorite holiday tradition …
is making potato latkes during the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. Homemade latkes are the best. Make sure they are crispy. Add homemade applesauce on the side.
Guiltiest pleasure is…
Getting that urge to make chocolate chip cookies for friends and secretly sneaking cookie dough for myself. Don’t tell anyone.
What I do when I want to feel joy is …
Pick up my iPhone, tap on photos and see pictures or videos of my three-year-old grandson Reid. A recent video that makes me laugh out loud is titled “obstacle course.” My son, Reid’s dad, draws a set of lines on the driveway with a piece of sidewalk chalk. The lines are straight, squiggly, circular, zigzagged, and boxed. “On your mark. Get set. Go!” Reid takes off following the lines, running spinning, tiptoeing, hopping. “Finished!” Reid throws his arms in the air. The video is a stitch. Makes me laugh every time.
Truly enjoyed reading this. Loved the story of the Korean dress! And Caren, I can imagine your anxiety about that trip to Nagasaki — such bravery to tell that important story!