The Tale of the Mandarin Duck: A Modern Fable

Random. Feb. 2021. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593176764.
Gr 3-5–Not to be confused with Katharine Paterson’s multiple award-winning The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, this self-conscious “modern fable” swaddles an actual bird’s 2018 visit to New York City in thick layers of wishful thinking. Once, Midler writes, New Yorkers were lively folk who “looked each other in the eye, and pretty much liked what they saw.” Then the advent of smartphones put an end to all the personal interaction—until, that is, the public furor created by an exotic duck’s brief stay in Central Park taught people to use their eyes again to see “that all around them are rare and beautiful birds, with and without feathers.” The illustrations, in which Kakutani’s sharp color photos of the gorgeously hued duck and aerial duck’s-eye views of Manhattan alternate with Avillez’s monochrome ink and wash galleries of busy, diverse humans adorned in similarly stylish garb, will be more of a draw to younger readers than the affected story or the celebrity names on the cover. Regardless, the photographer’s afterword, which is archly entitled “Why a Duck?” and includes a reference to a scene in The Sopranos, points directly to adults as the intended audience.
VERDICT An additional purchase, at best; the authorial dedication says it all: “For the birds.”

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