My education: Literary Analysis - Daniel's Duck

Well, I got a 93 on my first paper.

My professor said “You have done a VERY good job working the criteria here! Your discussion of each category with regards to this book is intelligent and insightful, and you support your points well. Mechanically, your writing is a bit choppy- try to avoid series of short, staccato sentences by combining sentences and using more transitions between sentences. For example, read your first paragraph aloud, coming to a complete stop at each period- you can "feel" the choppy effect. Let me know if you have any questions- I really enjoyed your work here!

She is right about the short choppy sentences, I think I have been reading too many “Magic Tree House” Books.

And now for your reading pleasure:

Daniel’s Duck
Written by Clyde Robert Bulla
Illustrated by Joan Sandin
Harper Collins Publishers, Inc 1982

Plot Synopsis: Daniel’s Duck is a story about a family that lives in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee during the 1800’s. They survive by trading and selling goods. There is little to do in the wintertime when they are snowed in. The family makes things to sell at the spring fair in town. Daniel wants to carve a wooden duck to take to the spring fair. The problem is he has never carved anything before. He carves the duck with its head looking backward. His brother tries to discourage him from taking the duck to the spring fair, but Daniel won’t listen to him. After everyone at the fair laughs at his duck, he tries to throw it away into the river. He thinks everyone hates it and is embarrassed. An elderly gentleman consoles him and praises the duck offering to buy it from him. The man consoling him turns out to be Henry Pettigrew, the famous local wood carver.

Is this a good story? I liked Daniel’s Duck. It is simply written and combined with the illustrations provides a complete picture about life in the mountains, small town culture, families, sibling rivalry, and emotions. The book is very easy for a child to read and in its simplicity, provides lessons about life. The story brings up opportunities to discuss having confidence in yourself and how to handle ridicule. Kids learn about the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and small town culture. How families support each other and how they survive during the cold winter months. Daniel’s Duck is a positive and heart warming story.

Is the Story about something I think could really have happened? Is the plot believable? Yes, the plot is believable. The plot includes person against person, person against self, and person against society conflicts. The person against person conflict involves Daniel and his brother who thinks he can’t carve anything because he is too young. The person against self conflict is Daniel’s confidence in himself that he can make something just as good as his brother. The person against society conflict is created when the town people laugh at the duck and Daniel feels he is being ridiculed. The situation described could happen anywhere. It is similar to when a child takes a project to the science fair and it does not perform as expected. People laugh because they find it amusing and appreciate the effort that went into the work. The child misunderstands and thinks they are laughing at him and his mistakes. He loses confidence in himself and his project. Then when a mentor or adult comes along that brings clarity to the situation, it makes them feel better and helps to restore their confidence. Daniel is hurt but feels better when Mr. Pettigrew, who is respected in the community and is an experienced wood carver, likes his duck.

Did the main character overcome the problem but not too easily? His big brother, Jeffrey did not make it easy for Daniel. Jeffrey makes simple carvings out of wood. Jeffrey is good at carving things and his parents are very proud of him. They always tell him “Someday you may be as good as Henry Pettigrew.”(6) This year he wants to do a carving of an animal like Henry Pettigrew. “I want to carve a deer or a turkey or a bear like Henry Pettigrew’s. But animals are hard to do”. (10) Jeffrey decides to carve a box with moons on the lid instead. Daniel has watched his parents and older brother make things and sell them at prior fairs, so he also wants to make something. Daniel decides he is going to carve a duck with its head facing backwards. He won’t let his brother’s remarks that he is too young and inexperienced stop him and he is determined to carve a duck. His brother keeps telling him he is doing it wrong when he sees the head is pointed backward. “That’s no way to do it”. said Jeff. (26) When the people of the town laugh when they see the duck, an elderly gentleman consoles him by saying “There are different ways of laughing. The people liked your duck. They laughed because they liked it”. (54) Daniel thinks they were laughing at him because it is ugly. The man tells him “It isn’t ugly. It’s a good duck. It made me feel happy. That’s why I laughed.”(54) The man is Henry Pettigrew. When some children walking by greet Mr. Pettigrew, Daniel is surprised. The famous wood carver likes his duck! He feels proud. He thinks “It isn’t ugly. It was good work. Henry Pettigrew said so and he knew it.”(58) Mr. Pettigrew’s encouragement shows Daniel that he has great talent which helps him to overcome his embarrassment and regain his confidence.

Did the characters seem real? Did I understand the personalities and reasons for actions? The characters seem very real with distinct personalities that show a full range of emotions from stubbornness to pride. Daniel is a little boy approximately 6 – 8 years old. He is sensitive, yet persistent and confident that he can carve something. He takes his time thinking about what he is going to make. Daniel can see that his parents are proud of Jeffrey and his carvings. He wants to be like his brother and carve something that his family will be proud of. His brother is a typical older brother, who teases and ridicules. He tells Daniels “It takes more than a good knife and some wood.”(11) His parents are supportive and tell the brother to leave Daniel alone and let him do it. He is hurt by the town people’s reaction and loses all confidence in his artwork. Mr. Pettigrew is a grandfatherly type who is famous in the valley for woodcarving. He is very talented and recognizes Daniel’s talent.

Did the characters fit into the setting? Together, the author and the illustrator paint a beautiful warm story of a simple life in the mountains. The setting is the 1800’s era in the mountains of Tennessee. The illustrator helps create the settings with warm illustrations. One of the pictures is of a cozy one room cabin. The author develops the setting with minimal wording “It was winter. The nights were long.”(15) The illustrator paints a picture of a snow covered cabin at the top of hill. Snow covers the ground, the trees are bare and the creek is just beginning to freeze over. Lights shine out of the cabin windows, creating warmth to the picture. The father and the two boys are drawn simply dressed in overalls, the mom in a simple home made dress.

My overall impression of Daniel’s Duck written by Clyde Robert Bulla is it is a good story and easy to read. The story is written for grades 2 to 4, but it is appropriate for any age group and younger children enjoy it as well. It is a very simple story about small town mountain culture and life. I would recommend it to anyone.

Cite: Clyde Robert Bulla, Daniel’s Duck, New York: 1979, HarperCollins, Inc.

What do you think? Does it make you want to read the story?

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