December 11, 2011

The Sissy Duckling

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:05 pm by pargoffa

The Sissy Duckling
Written by: Harvey Fierstein
Illustrated by: Henry Cole
Aladdin Paperbacks, NY (2002).

SUMMARY:  Elmer was not like all of the other ducks in the flock. While all of the other ducks were boxing, building forts, or playing football, Elmer was painting, baking cookies, building sand castles, and putting on puppet shows. Elmer’s father, Papa Duck, was not happy with Elmer’s behavior, so he tried to teach Elmer how to play baseball. Elmer, not amused with the game as it was, missed all three pitches that were thrown to him. That night, he heard Papa Duck telling Mama Duck of the incident and how his son is referred to as a sissy. The next day, the school bully, Drake, makes fun of Elmer and chases him all the way home. After overhearing his father, once again, Elmer decides that it would be best if he ran away while the rest of the flock flew south. Shortly after their departure, Elmer hears a shot followed by a quiet whimper- it was a wounded Papa Duck. Elmer takes Papa duck to his new home where he nurses Papa Duck back to health and forms a new relationship with his father by engaging in all the things Elmer likes to do. When the flock returns, they are still discussing how Papa and Elmer went missing. However, out of the grass Papa Duck sticks up for his son. One by one the rest of the flock offer Elmer praises for surviving an entire winter in the forest, proving he was no longer the Sissy the ducks thought he was.

MY REVIEW: The Sissy Duckling is a great book for any child, or individual, who may be feeling like they do not fit in with the larger, stereotypical population. While I am aware that this book may fall into the category of struggling with gender identity, it is a good book to highlight the LGBTQ community as well. While there is more than just a single story for each group of people, it is in my personal experience that those in the LGBTQ community often struggle for their actions and others’ beliefs regarding those actions. Elmer, while never openly out-ed as a gay, bisexual, or questioning individual, faces these same struggles (such as preferring to bake over playing a sport). However, note how I say “openly out-ed.” On the first page, the author places heavy emphasis on the work “happy.” By definition, happy is a synonym for gay. This subtle message, for me as a reader, insinuated that Elmer was more than just questioning his gender role; he was questioning his sexual orientation as well- although in terms of reading this book to a young child, I do not think he or she would understand the double meaning. The author uses other words or situations in this book that made me hesitant in deciding whether or not it would make an appearance in my future classroom as well. For example, Elmer is called a Sissy throughout the entire book by the majority of his flock. Growing up, I was taught this was a derogatory term that hurt people’s feelings; I was also taught that fighting was never an option, yet Drake bullies Elmer harassing him until he has no choice but to hide. Overall, these two instances do not detract from the books exemplary status; therefore, while I may not choose to openly read it to my students because of the linguistic cues and violent insinuations, I would most definitely allow it to be on a shelf in my classroom library. The Sissy Duckling is a heartwarming story with vivid illustrations. Elmer captured my heart, and I believe he can capture the heart of anyone who picks the story up. He teaches a vital lesson that few books teach now days: birds of a feather do not always flock together, it is ok to be different.






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