08 May 2009

The Duck in the Gun

byJoy Cowley. Illustrated by Robyn Belton

Walker Books. Picture Book. Paperback rrp $15.95

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

First published in 1969, the themes in The Duck in the Gun are timeless. Humorous dilemmas illustrate the senselessness of war in a mid-19th century setting. The reader feels removed from a story presented in a different time and place and thus able to observe the comical aspects of preparing for battle. The General, (complete with a ridiculous feather in his cap) prepares his army to attack an unknown town.

When a duck nests in their sole cannon, confusion sets in. All plans of destroying the enemy bow to a duck’s need to hatch her young. The general approaches the Prime Minister of the town with several ridiculous proposals, which beg a deeper question: Which is more nonsensical: for two sides to share a cannon or the idea of war itself?

Robyn Belton cleverly uses every detail in her illustrations to reflect the issues portrayed. The general’s army and town’s inhabitants share exactly the same patterns and shades of colour. Compare the patterning on the army tents with the dress worn by the Prime Minister’s daughter, or the red of the army uniform with the roof of the town’s Inn. These similarities progressively blur the boundaries between enemy and friend until no boundaries exist.

The urgency of war wanes with every new contact between the army and town’s people. The ducklings finally hatch and the cannon is finally ready to fire, but everything has changed. An inevitable happy ending ensues.

This could be just a clever story helping young children to laugh at the concept of war, but it is so much more than that. The Duck in the Gun is a handy resource for both Primary and Secondary students. Concepts of war, peace and unjustified prejudices are portrayed by concrete examples through text and illustrations.

The Duck in the Gun also demonstrates how incredibly easy peace making can be – and you don’t even need a duck in a gun to manage it.

1 comment:

  1. Joy Cowley is brilliant. I truly believe we can credit to her the love for reading enjoyed by millions of kids.