The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling

Book - 1999
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An ugly duckling spends an unhappy year ostracized by the other animals before he grows into a beautiful swan.
Publisher: New York : Morrow Junior Books, c1999.
ISBN: 9780688159320
Call Number: 398.2 UGLY
Characteristics: 1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 28 cm
Subjects: Ugly duckling (Tale) -- Juvenile literature.
Ducks -- Juvenile fiction.
Animals -- Juvenile fiction.
Fairy tales.
Additional Contributors: Pinkney, Jerry


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Apr 29, 2008

This book is well-intentioned but in some ways counter-productive. Here are a few of the less celebrated lessons that this book might teach:

1) It implies that only those who are biologically similar to you (here, the swans) would recognize your "beauty".

2) Conversely, those who are unlike you (ducks) would not learn to see your "beauty". This is the critical missing element in the story. The reader is presumably enlightened about the relativity of "beauty" by the end of the book -- but there is no positive model of an individual (duckling/signet) confronting the taunting crowd (ducks) about the prejudice. There is also no example of a society that has improved itself based on "beauty and strength in diversity".

3) The unspoken moral is that even if you know that "beauty" is bunk, you better stay with "your own crowd" to avoid hassles from the incorrigible others.

This story also shows the danger of using animals as stand-in for people in children's literature. Using "people" who belong to different animal species creates the impression that biological differences are more important than they really are. In reality, there is only one human species, and only one human race.

By the way, the swans showing out of nowhere at the end of the story are nothing more than "deus ex machina" -- an artificial new element wedged into the story at the last minute to ensure a "happy ending".

Apr 28, 2008

Well illustrated retelling.


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