Review Blog

May 02 2014

The duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard

cover image

Ill. by Stephen Michael King. Allen and Unwin, 2014. ISBN 978743312612.
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. Friendship. Future. Love. Rather than concentrating on the mess the world has become, Millard shows what can happen when people have hope. Grandpapa has memories he cannot express, he is critical of bringing the duck down into their dark place, but the young boy keeps the duck which then leads them to the light, to the world which has become usable again, showing signs of revival.
Peterboy is one of a group of Darklings who live beneath the earth's surface, down in its deep dark places, needing hats with candles to find their way. But they need their candles above ground too, as the place has become blighted, tainted with overuse, the place the Darklings go to scavenge what they can to survive below. The boy finds an injured duck and despite knowing that Grandpapa will grumble, takes the animal down to the Dark. It becomes well, repaying their kindness with eggs. But Grandpapa has warned that when the winds blow, the bird will leave, and one day it climbs above ground and with the boy watches for the light that will show its path. Peterboy convinces Grandpapa to remember and tell the tales of long ago, but still Idaduck stays. When the light does not appear, Grandpapa decides to hold a farewell party for the duck and in doing so, everyone sees that the earth has renewed herself, dressing herself in forests and trees.
Millard's prose is exceptional, taking us down to the depths of the cave the sorry place, while the boy above ground uses his spiderling fingers to seek the things to take below, their language almost as forgotten as Grandpapa's disremembered stories of the past. Millard builds the word images carefully, each phrase resonating with the spoiled atmosphere above, memorialising what it has become through her use of language. Stephen Michael King has painted the world described by Millard with passion. The muck hills over which the boy climbs each day to scavenge remind the reader of the hills of rubbish many children climb each day for food and goods to sell, the chairs that Grandpapa sits on are assemblages of flotsom from the world above, and their clothes put together from a scrap bag of castoffs and found objects. The Darklings are small, pen drawn in the mess of black ink that denotes the underground passages they call home. Above ground colour begins to appear as Grandpapa remembers his stories and the duck finds enough light to guide her path.
This is a glowing story of friendship and family, of renewal and hope. It is a masterful picture book which speaks of sadness and loss, of a world blighted by the actions of previous generations, but offers hope for the future. A book which gives more each time it is read.
Fran Knight

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