Before the first word is read at story time, the guys and gals are asked to stand, hold hands and make a circle. Then those words they love are uttered, let's pretend. You are a baby elephant wanting to get your mother's attention; put your hands together forming a trunk and trumpet. You are a puppy outside for the final time that day with your human; raise your nose to the moon and howl. You are a duckling who just can't keep up; waddle and quack to tell your siblings to slow down. You are a kitten trying to catch a dragonfly; you move with caution, pounce and swipe with your paws.
If you've ever watched newborn and young animals, they mimic their parents instinctively knowing this will increase their chances of survival. They are constantly being coached to sharpen these skills. What if they like the children pretended to be other than themselves? Those two darling characters first introduced to readers in Hey, Duck! (Random House, January 22, 2013) written and illustrated by Carin Bramsen have returned in a companion title, Just a Duck? (Random House, January 27, 2015).
My good friend Duck!
Why slink like that?
Well, can't you see? I am a cat.
Cat brings to Duck's attention his lack of similar physical characteristics. Ever the optimist Duck says he will look like Cat once he grows up. His ears are simply tiny but Cat sees no ears whatsoever.
Noticing Duck's crestfallen look Cat decides to agree with Duck. With a whoop of joy, Duck joins Cat in a favorite pastime. Tree climbing proves to be a bit of a challenge though. Like a true friend Cat again suggests Duck needs time for claws to grow.
When Duck suggests they try to play canoe on the lake, Cat's eyes widen. Another idea seems much better; run, jump and catch a leaf. Oh! No! A last leap off the end of the dock results in a resounding splash. Water and cats don't go together.
Concern for a cherished companion has Duck splashing into the pond regardless of a cat's dislike of all things wet. With a death grip on a nearby floating log, Cat looks wild and wide-eyed at the little duck. Dry land is definitely a desired destination. Heroic efforts and a little rock 'n' roll make for a wonderful watery outcome.
This story starts, as did the first title, with the slinking of cats. Rather than wanting Cat to be a duck, Duck now thinks and acts like a cat. This ties neatly to the last word of Hey, Duck!, MEOW! Lilting, rhyming sentences by Carin Bramsen wrap readers in the warmth of Duck and Cat's friendship. Their conversations reveal a strengthening in their relationship; a give-and-take banter. Here is a sample passage.
Oh, dear! This
really is a shame.
I think I'm off my
Now, now. We climb with
claws, you know.
Your claws might need some
time to grow.
On, yes, I think they're still
Unfolding the dust jacket, we are treated to an illustration spanning both pages of the weathered boards of the rustic, rich red barn as a background for Cat and Duck. Added details of the forget-me-nots, poppies, pansies and sunflowers along with the battered green bucket with garden tools provide readers with more information about the home of the two pals. Carin Bramsen's meticulous details add texture to this and all the pictures throughout, inviting you to touch each one. Downy yellow duckling feathers cover the opening and closing endpapers. Splashing water is the backdrop for the verso. On the title page, as on the front dust jacket, Duck's wings are uplifted; he's looking at them wondering if they are paws.
Bramsen shifts the image sizes to enhance the cadence of her story; two page spreads, smaller illustrations on a single page, a single page visual or a single image like a cutout surrounded by white space. For the sequence of Duck trying to climb a tree and Duck and Cat in the lake there are eight wordless squares on two pages. Facial features of each character are so expressive no words are necessary.
Every single image exudes enchanting appeal but one of my favorites is the first one in the book. Duck is bent over raising his tiny legs to replicate the smooth movements of a cat. Close behind in the grass is Cat. As usual they are engaged in a chat. In the distance we can see the barns, brilliant blue sky and rolling green hills.
Just a Duck? written and illustrated by Carin Bramsen continues to explore the themes of personal identity and friendship through a story brimming with charm in text and illustrations. You keep hoping the characters will walk right off the pages into your presence. So lovable are Duck and Cat, this book will be read and read again preferably with distinctive voices.
To explore more about Carin Bramsen and her other books please visit her website by following the link embedded in her name. At the publisher's website you get a sneak peak at more interior pages. Here is an interview of Carin Bramsen at Frog On A Blog posted shortly after my review of her first book.