Review: Odd Duck: friendship and acceptance never grow old
Odd Duck is a great little story about friendship, acceptance, judgement and difference. That may sound like a lot for a children’s book -we’ve all read books with ‘messages’ which have been either schlocky or just a bit horrible- but I don’t think anyone could deny the warmth and honesty of Varon and Castellucci’s charming tale, primarily because it triumphs as a story first.
Theodora is a singular duck, one who practices swimming every morning with a teacup on her head (for posture, of course), one who -shock, horror!- reads avidly, a duck who knows exactly what she likes and doesn’t like. Theodora knows the other ducks think of her as an odd-ball, after all, she doesn’t even fly south in the winter, preferring instead to stay cosily ensconced in her cottage- and so both parties maintain a distance from one another, something Theodora doesn’t mind as long as she is able to continue living in precisely the manner she always has.
Into this equation enters Theodora’s new neighbour, Chad. Theodora has her reservations regarding the new arrival straightaway- his feathers akimbo and dyed a multitude of colours, the peculiar goggles, his collection of strange statues and ‘art installations’ that he displays in the garden- but she’s determined to be a polite and welcoming neighbour and heads over armed with a cake. After finding Chad spreadeagled on the grass soaking up sunshine, the visit does little to dampen her suspicions and she returns home, duty fulfilled and intent on having nothing to do with such blatant weirdness. Time passes, winter arrives, and to Theodora’s horror, Chad is unable to fly south due to a broken wing, forcing the two to spend time together.
Like the best children’s books, Odd Duck will appeal greatly to both children and adults: to the former with its lovely art and engaging story, whilst any adults reading will appreciate Chad’s free-wheeling, hippy ways, his alternative art efforts and the apprehension over new neighbours on a different level. There’s a great deal for children to look at here; I love the inclusion of tiny descriptions and labels for things, giving extra little somethings to read and discover. Varon’s illustrations are the key here (as in any picture book), delightful and brimming with character, she brings to life the quirks and details of Castellucci’s story in a funny, organic manner: Theodora’s personality never seems affected, she just is.
The layout of the book is interesting: a mixture of large 2 panel pages and splash pages, making the book easy to follow for any child picking it up. The 2 panel pages really look lovely: the simplicity and open-ness of them combined with the bold black panel borders frame the pictures effectively, and provide an added emphasis. It’s a book I think would work well as an introductory/taster for early comics reading.
What differentiates Odd Duck though, is its third act: I have to admit that I thought that the story would end once Theodora and Chad accepted one another and became friends. Castellucci goes a bit further than expected though, taking events in a different and all too true direction, and the book is much better for it. Odd Duck is a familiar tale with important teachings of self worth, prejudice, acceptance and judgement that always bear repeating: the way these are incorporated into the narrative, along with Varon’s zesty illustrations help to differentiate and elevate it from other books.