CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Lemon the Duck.
Laura Backman. Illustrated by Laurence Cleyet-Merle.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2008.
32 pp. hardcover, $19.95.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.
Review by Margaret Snow.
In the story Lemon the Duck, Ms. Lake has a great new learning experience for her primary students... they are incubating four Pekin domestic duck eggs. On "the big day," Peaches, Chip Chip, Daisy and Lemon emerge. While the children celebrate their new found friends, they notice Lemon is different... she is unable to stand. As the story progresses, the reader learns Lemon has been born with neurological problems that will require "extra special care."
While the other three ducks retire to Mr. Web's farm, Lemon lives with the teacher and becomes the class pet. Pushed in a stroller, Lemon commutes where she enjoys swimming in a tub and she is hand-fed worms. Yet still Lemon longs for the freedom to move about independently. The children work as a team experimenting and problem solving to give Lemon the best possible support in her quest for more autonomy. They try tying balloons to her, using a walker, propping her up with pillows, food temptation, but finally meet with success when student Holly notices a dog life jacket while helping to clean her garage at home. Back at school, the teacher slips Lemon's legs into the holes of the dog vest, the children hold the handles to assist with the weight, and VOILA, Lemon can walk upright for the first time. If the children are busy, they simply attach Lemon's carrier to a stand. She is finally able to move around on her own, observing what is happening around her, "mucking around in the ground (like all ducks love to do) "and even finding her own worms for the first time rather than being hand fed."
A quiver of sadness begins as Nathaniel questions if this freedom means Lemon is now destined for Mr. Web's farm as well. Ms. Lake confirms that Lemon will always need them, to which Nathaniel's response is, "I think we need her too!"
Laura Backman has done an incredible job of relating a personal experience that occurred in her primary classroom in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Children can easily identify with a variety of typical student character types found in the text. She has crafted a book where much can be learned about not only the basic development of "oviparous animals" (animals that lay eggs) but more importantly the value of an individual with special needs. Select phrases that incorporate the use of a variety of senses are sprinkled throughout the text, such as "mucking around," "chorus of quacking," "grandmother's lemon meringue pie," "burst out of their egg" and "peeping balls of fluff."
Backman has subliminally added life lessons; for instance, disabilities do not make one less special, the importance of quality of life; goals can be achieved in creative ways when one has difficulties to overcome; and assistance is important but so is standing back to offer encouragement so that self-reliance and a sense of personal accomplishment might also be achieved.
Nathaniel showed the others how to feed her. "Hold the worm by Lemon's tail," he instructed. "Ms. Lake says Lemon needs to practice touching her oil gland so she can get stronger, and waterproof herself. It will keep her dry in the water."
Laurence Cleyet-Merle, from Marseille, France, has illustrated many books, magazines and even board games. His well drawn cartoon images are the perfect medium to capture the wide-eyed innocence of children looking at a special needs character for the first time. He has revealed a sense of wonder, concern, love and compassion in the facial expressions of both the children and the ducks. Both colour and light have been skillfully utilized to enhance the story with his quality art.
Lemon the Duck supports primary curriculum and teachers might use this book with children to show:
- a "SAFE WAY" to talk about disabilities
- the importance of accepting individuals for what they can do
- class team work
- following through with a class project
- the development of egg laying animals
- the enhancement of a story by using descriptive phrases
- vocabulary development
- lessons on "Writing Traits" i.e. word choice, organization, voice, sentence fluency, ideas, conventions
Not only is this an awesome story, but the reader can turn it into a real life experience. To do a follow up on Lemon, visit her website at www.lemontheduck.com. Here you cannot only see the nonfiction version of this tale unfold but also get updates on Lemon, complete with pictures, home video clips, poems, jokes, other stories of animal rescue, duckology and several newspaper articles featuring Lemon.
To summarize, Lemon the Duck book is delightfully well-written, with excellent
illustrations, and has a variety of purposes in a classroom. I highly recommend this book both for home and school use.
Margaret Snow is a teacher librarian and Early Literacy teacher in a small school in Southwestern Ontario.
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