Characters who don’t quite fit in with their surroundings are often the stuff of good narrative tension and timeless stories – Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling comes to mind… Two beautiful picture books which seem to follow on along that theme, not least through the fact of their protagonists being white water birds (or not), are Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers by John Burningham and Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen.
Borka was republished recently in a special 40th anniversary edition. It has lost none of its appeal in the intervening years and the fabulous, witty artwork has not dated. Borka’s parents are told by the doctor goose that they must knit some feathers for Borka(!)– but the other young geese still laugh at her and she spends most of her time keeping out of the way. She can’t fly and isn’t even missed when all the other birds set off on their flight south for the winter. That’s when Borka’s adventures really begin; and the unexpected broadening of her horizons brings new friendships and happiness at last…
Meanwhile, our copy of Guji Guji was given to the whole family with the inscription “I hope you ALL enjoy this charming book” and indeed, there really is something in it for readers of all ages. Above all, there is a bubbly humor and an all-round, gleeful delight in the dénouement. Guji Guji started life as an egg which rolled into a duck’s nest. At this point we see a nest with three smallish white eggs and an ENORMOUS brown one. The next page:
Mother Duck didn’t notice.
(She was reading.)
Of course she was! What a glorious way for young readers / listeners to be introduced to reading as a way of life! Mother Duck treats all four of her children the same and Guji Guji has no questions even, until the “terrible” day three crocodiles arrive on the scene and assure him he’s one of them and should behave likewise. What follows is a story of temptation and wiliness overcome by love. For children who have always been fully secure in where they fit in to their families and communities, that is the straightforward unfolding of the tale: but for those who have felt out of place or exposed because they are physically different, perhaps through adoption, this is a very special story. Here’s a full review from Book Carousel; and Books for Kids has some ideas about how to use the story in class to talk about peer pressure. You can also listen to the story here, read by Scott Simon and Daniel Pinkwater on a National Public Radio broadcast, with interjections to highlight the delightful, so integral illustrations – it does just make you want to have the book open before you! I particularly loved this:
Here’s a picture I’d have on my wall and look at every day for the rest of my life and not mind it a bit, of Mother Duck reading to her little brood: they’re all in a big pile, falling asleep, sort of draped over Guji Guji.
How’s that for a blissful picture of a bedtime story?