Once Upon a Time, Upon a Nest
Ruby is a little duck who, like the gem, is ‘small and precious’. From the very beginning, Ruby does everything late – from hatching, to eating and swimming – all at her own slow, leisurely pace. Her brothers and sisters – rather charmingly called Rufus, Rory and Rebecca – do everything before Ruby, but her mother remains resolutely calm and optimistic. Father Duck asks ‘Will she ever swim?’ ‘She will,’ says Mother Duck, ‘in her own time.’ And eventually Ruby surpasses her siblings, flying ‘farther and wider’, making her parents proud. Emmett’s text is charming – deceptively simple with a timeless quality, which can be sorely lacking from other contemporary picturebooks. Children will love his gentle use of repetition and many will find the theme – of honouring one’s own pace – reassuring. Strongly reminiscent of Leo the Late Bloomer, this book deserves to be on every child’s bookshelf.
The illustrations – acrylic on watercolour paper using a dry brush – are full of expression and capture the spirit of the book to a T. Henry’s work will be familiar to many from the Noisy Farm and Ella the Elephant board books (both Macmillan) and, like our own Mary Murphy and Niamh Sharkey, she is obviously perfectly in tune with young children’s illustrative needs. Her colours are fresh and bright and look good enough to eat – delicious yellows, lime greens, sky blues, gentle lilacs, and rosy pinks. And the ducks themselves are a tour de force of fluffy chickness. Henry gives Ruby a distinguishing orange quiff or ‘crown’, as she herself describes it. I look forward with great anticipation to her next illustrative outing. I’d highly recommend this wonderful picturebook to anyone who comes into contact with young children; it’s simply the best duck tale since Jane Simmons’s Come on Daisy.