Ed. Note: Chestnut Hill native Elspeth Lodge, 33, is the author of “The Garden Ducklings,” a children's book published in August of this year by Archway Publishing, a division of …
Ed. Note: Chestnut Hill native Elspeth Lodge, 33, is the author of “The Garden Ducklings,” a children's book published in August of this year by Archway Publishing, a division of Simon & Schuster, one of the nation's leading publishing firms. This article is about how “The Garden Ducklings” came into existence.
As children generally do, my brother and I played games where there were winners and losers. But saving a nest of seven abandoned duck eggs in our Chestnut Hill garden, which we found during a game of hide-and-seek, was something that required working together, teamwork.
My grandmother, Roberta Melman, who is now 90, observed the scenes in front of her and, as is the creative nature of an artist, said, “These would make great illustrations.”
The ducklings marched after my brother in our garden, like he was a parent (imprinting); they splashed and swam about in their own personal paddling pool, and flurries of activity erupted during feeding time. There was plenty of inspiration to work with.
The seed had been planted as a child, but the idea for the publication of a children’s book was abandoned for well over a decade until I realized I should write the story of “The Garden Ducklings.” My writing experience and my grandmother’s capability as an artist meant we had the tools to bring the tale to life.
The writing is simple but emotive to clearly present concepts for children to understand. The illustrations are light-hearted and fall somewhere in between cartoons and fine art. Combined, the two elements bring to life the fun, whimsical elements of the story, but on a deeper level, they form an experience that shows how two children learned to ask questions, find answers and make decisions that would ultimately impact whether the duck eggs survived and hatched.
The road to saving the eggs was full of challenges that went hand-in-hand with moments of joy and curiosity. The first obstacle we faced was “How do we tell if the mother duck will return to the nest?” And “Can we save the eggs?” And “How?”
Our immediate resources as elementary school students were our parents and our teachers at Springside School and Chestnut Hill Academy (now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy).
My brother’s science teacher at the time kindly stepped in to answer our questions, which quickly led us to deeper questions.
Us: “How do we save the eggs?”
Science Teacher: “You will need an incubator.”
Us: “What’s an incubator? How do we use it? How long will it take for the ducklings to hatch? Why are the shells that color? Why did their mother leave them? What do ducks eat?”
Questions begat questions. The answers had to be considered, choices made and actions taken, and our success or failure would be determined by whether the eggs hatched. After setting up a controlled environment for the eggs, the day came when we saw one little beak breaking through a shell. Hours later each duckling was welcomed by two curious faces into the world.
It was a triumph, and one of our first lessons was that interest, research and hard work could lead us to our end goals. And we learned the reality that once a goal is reached, fresh challenges arise, different goals form, and new questions need to be asked.
For example, we discovered the benefits of thinking ahead when, after the ducklings were born, they were running freely about the house. More problem-solving meetings commenced, and we built the ducklings an enclosure outside.
There were many more bumps in the road after the ducklings arrived into the world, but we knew that by working together and being curious, we could handle the challenges. From finding the eggs to the events after that, my grandmother and I chose the moments that we thought best highlighted the lessons of this story through the pairing of our writing and illustrations. This book is meant to spark joy and illustrate the power of curiosity, as the true story did for us.
Elspeth Lodge is a storyteller with experience in journalism nationally and internationally and in marketing and sales for magazines such as Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. She holds a M.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University and a BA in English from Wheaton College. Roberta Melman, 90, the book's illustrator, raised her family in Chestnut Hill. She is an artist whose work has been shown in solo and juried exhibitions throughout the U.S. She attended Moore College of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. “The Garden Ducklings” can be obtained via amazon.com or archwaypublishing.com through their “bookstore.”