What do a box of strawberries, a magic feather, and the President of the United States have in common? They’re all pivotal twists in a unique children’s book, Dashing Duckling.
Written by Alex Sargsyan – owner of Dashing Duckling Farm, a no-kill, free-range poultry farm in Jonesborough, Tennessee – and illustrated in a cheerful watercolor-style by Jen Fuller, Dashing Duckling tells the unlikely story of Janice, an adventurous Pekin duck with an unusually large, fluffy crest on her head. While the marshmallow-y bouffant atop Janice’s smiling face may set her apart, it’s her curiosity that takes her down a path no one would dream of – from her native family farm to a kitchen in the White House.
We learn of Janice’s journeys, however, not from the duck herself, but from Pygmalion the Pig, narrator and “author” of the book, who states upfront that “some things in this book may be difficult for humans to understand, so please do not even try.” Pygmalion asserts that “everything in this chronicle is written from a pig’s point of view,” but as we leave the barnyard behind, it’s hard to imagine Pygmalion in the Oval Office.
While Dashing Duckling begins on an idyllic farm with a cast of friendly barnyard characters and their cheerful caretakers, it soon moves in a surprise twist to the U.S. capital. As Janice finds herself in strange and even hostile surroundings – at one point in danger of being the president’s dinner – she finds a friend in the First Daughter, Linda, a lonely young girl coping with diabetes. As Janice and Linda become closer, the duck with the pompadour helps Linda face her daily injections with courage and just a hint of magic.
While Janice helps Linda gain confidence, trouble brews behind the scenes. It’s a rare children’s book that can combine cuddly barnyard animals and unlikely friendships with political intrigue, but Dashing Duckling does just that. While Linda’s mother deftly handles diplomatic ties with Russia, her second-in-command fumes at her success. The scheming VP also has it out for the duck.
There’s no need to spoil the ending, but its twists may be a touch heavier than today’s run-of-the-mill children’s book. A gun makes a prominent appearance in Fuller’s illustrations; there’s a wild assassination attempt and ultimate death. Author Sargsyan also slips in a surprising and kid-friendly lesson on DNA, courtesy of our narrator, “an educated pig.”
Ultimately, Dashing Duckling’s ideals of love, loyalty, kindness – and, importantly, the valuation of animals as equals – shine through. While young readers may have questions at the end of this story, they will also likely come away believing that humans and animals can be true friends.