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Book Review: It’s Useful to Have A Duck by Isol

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This gorgeous little double-sided board book was snapped up immediately by my six year old who declared that she loved it dearly. She’s a lot older than the target market, which I’d put at around three, but there is something rather special about this little book, which has just been released in Australia. The original Spanish version Tener un patito es util was published in 2007, and published in English in the U.S. in March 2009, where it has already become a bestseller. The book was chosen by the American Institute of Graphic Arts as one of its "50 Books/50 Covers" for concept and design.

What's so special about it? Firstly, it’s got a wonderful matt finish, and the book fits neatly into a slipcover, creating a gifty quality to the book. Secondly, the pale blue and sunny yellow colours are used to perfection, mirrored in the two stories that make up this book. Read it one way (yellow background with blue accents) and it’s the story of a boy who finds a duck, and makes him into a plaything. Read it the other way (blue on yellow) and it’s the story of a duck that finds a boy and turns him into a plaything. The text is simple, but whimsical, taking a child (or duck's) eye view of the relationship.

The stories work perfectly together, teaching children about the way perspectives differ, and the whole design, with its simple naïve ink drawings, and even the way the stories are laid out on the spine, is just wonderful. Your child might just be a tiny bit outraged when reading about the way the boy uses the duck (wearing him as a hat, or leaving him to plug up the hole in the bath), until you flip it and realise that the relationship is a symbiotic one. The book can be completed unfolded and read open, or folded in different ways to get different stories, which almost makes it a kind of puzzle. A toddler would be hard pressed to ruin the book, and if they continue to love it through those tricky sixes, you’ve got very good value for money.

This is a lovely small but sturdy book that your child will enjoy for many years. It’s fun to read both stories, and even more fun to have your child read it to you, mixing up the pages and putting his or her own rubber duck on his head. Despite the simplicity of the text and pictures, this is a book you’ll want to hang onto even when your child has grown out of it. In the case of my big girl, I don't think that will be happening anytime soon.

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.