Review Blog

Jun 12 2014

The duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard

cover image

Ill. by Stephen Michael King. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
ISBN 9781743312612.
In a hole built with care and lit with love, deep underground in the land of Dark, live Peterboy and his Grandpapa. In the post-apocalyptic world, Dark was a sorry, spoiled place; a broken and battered place and had been so for so long that everything about a different world, a world of sunups and sundowns, yesterdays and tomorrows had been disremembered by everyone except Grandpapa. Peterboy and the other Darklings only venture beyond their holes and burrows at the dead of night when they go to the finding fields to see what they could scavenge. They know nothing of the sights and sounds and smells that Grandpapa can recall and no one speaks about.
When Peterboy came home he would tell Grandpapa of the things he had seen... 'There are holes in the dark, Grandpapa, and light leaks through! It slides down the steeps, puddles in the deeps and glimmers on the trickle'. And as he told his stories to Grandpapa he noticed his eyes light up as Grandpapa remembered things lost and longed for. Peterboy wanted to keep that light in Grandpapa's eyes so when he ventured out into the night, he looked for more than crumbs and crusts. He wished for a scrap of wonderfulness. And one night, he found what he was looking for - Idaduck, broken and spent but with hope beating in her downy heart. So Peterboy picked her up... and changed his life, the life of Grandpapa and the lives of the Darklings for ever.
This is the most extraordinary book - it is a tale of hope, and triumph and resilience; of love and friendship and family; of connection and belonging. But what sets it apart is the most magnificent language that Glenda Millard has used - language that is so evocative and imaginative and expressive that you are just absorbed into the story as it wraps around you. Every word is perfectly chosen and paints the most amazing mind-pictures. Accompanied by the iconic illustrations of Stephen Michael King, who uses black and blocks of colour to depict the mood so well and contrasts the oppressiveness of the landscape with the feelings of futility of the Darklings who are represented in his characteristic line-drawing style, this is the epitome of a picture book where text and illustration are in perfect harmony.
The publisher recommends this book for 4-8 year-olds but it is for a much broader audience than that. Apart from the context of the world as we know it having ended and the suggestion of the resurrection of life, older readers will gain much by examining the imagery, atmosphere and emotion evoked by the language and how this is interpreted by the illustrator. There are so many layers to this book that it should prove once and for all that picture books are for everyone.
I may just be looking at the CBC Award winner for 2015.
Barbara Braxton

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