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When all the other ducks of Dove Lake turn against him, Ugly's mother has no choice but to protect her family and leave her darling Ugly behind. Armed with only his natural curiosity and a few good pieces of advice, the ugly duckling must find his way home. Luckily, the friendship of a few wonderful ...
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When all the other ducks of Dove Lake turn against him, Ugly's mother has no choice but to protect her family and leave her darling Ugly behind. Armed with only his natural curiosity and a few good pieces of advice, the ugly duckling must find his way home. Luckily, the friendship of a few wonderful animals in the Tasmanian outback-a boxing wallaby, two brave geese, a maternal wombat, and a spunky possum-makes his journey a lot easier. But what exactly is Ugly trying to find?
By setting this story in Tasmania, Donna Jo Napoli turns expectations on their heads and gives readers a fresh look at this classic tale of finding one's identity.
"DUD!" shrieked a strange voice.
"Never," said the voice I knew better than any other, the sweetest voice of all, the voice I thought of as Mother. "Don't say such a bad word. Quack quack quack quack. Hatch," she said encouragingly. "Hatch. Hatch."
"See? Not a crack. It's silent as a stone. That's a dud egg. Look at the color. It should be ivory. Or a lovely creamy tan. That's green. Look."
"Of course it's green," said Mother. "You're a freckled duck. I'm a Pacific black duck. All my eggs are milky with a slight tinge. Quack quack quack quack. It's a good egg."
"Milky?" said the freckled duck. "That's not milky green. That's plain green. Look at the empty shells of your other eight ducklings. Just look."
"I have to clean out this nest," said Mother in a distracted tone. "The white inside of the broken shells may catch the eye of a falcon flying overhead. Yes, yes, I'll do that right away. Quack quack quack quack."
"That's not the point," said the freckled duck. "The point is, that egg is darker than your others. Look at it."
"It's the same color as other Pacific black duck eggs in Tasmania. Or, well, close enough. Now and then an egg is darker," said Mother. "So what?"
"So it's a dud. Your other ducklings are wandering incircles. They need you. Eight is enough for a clutch. Too many, in fact. Best to count your blessings and forget your losses," said the freckled duck. "Leave it."
"This egg is just slow," said Mother. "It'll come. Quack quack quack quack. Hatch. Please hatch. Come on now, hatch."
"Eggs are never slow," said the freckled duck.
"This one is."
"Is this your first clutch?" asked the freckled duck.
"Yes," said Mother.
"I knew it," said the freckled duck. "I've had lots of clutches. Believe me: that egg is a dud. Look at it. Just look."
"Stop telling me to look," said Mother. "I am looking. It's a fine egg."
"No, no," said the freckled duck. "Eggs roll out of us, one per day, but they hatch all at the same time. That's how it is, whether you're a freckled duck or a musk duck or a gray teal or a chestnut teal or ..."
"This Pacific black duck egg is late," said Mother firmly. I could feel her heat as she settled back on top of me.
"You just won't look at facts," said the freckled duck. "Won't look. Won't look." Her voice faded into the distance. "Dud, dud, dud."
"Peep," came a voice.
"Peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep," came seven more voices.
And I knew down to my bones and cartilage and bill and newly formed eyelids: these were the voices of my fellow ducklings. They wanted me to hatch, too.
I concentrated. Hatch, I thought. Hatch. Hatch. The effort wore me out. I fell back asleep inside my cozy shell.
"Quack quack quack quack. Come take these ducklings for a swim," said Mother.
"Huh?" came a low, reedy voice. "Quek quek quek?"
"You heard me," said Mother. "You can't just stroll on by."
"I don't stroll," said the voice, slightly louder. "I waddle. Especially when I'm molting, like now."
"Well, you can't just waddle on by," said Mother. "You're their father."
"That's what I thought," said Father. "I'm their father."
"So take them swimming."
"But I'm their father," said Father. "Quek quek. You're their mother. You take them swimming."
"I can't. I'm sitting on the last egg."
"There's one more egg?"
"That's what I said," said Mother.
"But the others hatched days ago. If it doesn't hatch soon, it won't be ready to fly north for the winter."
"It'll hatch soon," said Mother.
"Quek quek," said Father. "Leave it."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Mother. "If you won't take these ducklings swimming, then come sit on this last egg."
"I don't sit on eggs," said Father. "I'm the father. Quek quek quek quek. My job is done the minute you start laying the eggs."
"This family has a problem," said Mother.
"Eggs are your problem," said Father. "Not mine."
"But you're my mate."
"Find yourself another mate," said Father.
"I will," said Mother. "Count on it. I'm no goose. But I won't find someone new till next breeding season. For now, you're it. We have a late egg. So this is your problem, too. Help."
"No," said Father.
"Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please," came the hopeful voices of my siblings.
"Don't try that on me," said Father. "I'm the father. This is mothers' work."
"Oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh," came the sad voices of my siblings.
"Don't be dramatic," said Father. "This is how Pacific black ducks are. See you later."
Pathetic "bye"s came from my siblings.
"Quack quack quack quack," said Mother. "Hatch. Please hatch."
I struggled. I really did. I knocked myself out struggling. But it didn't happen.
Something else happened, though. Attached to the outside of my abdomen was a yolk sac. Each day my body absorbed some of the nutrition stored in that yolk. So the sac had been getting smaller and smaller. And that day the remainder of it finally disappeared. I had to rest while my belly closed up.
"Off that egg at last, I see," said the freckled duck. "Come to your senses, have you?"
"I'm just stretching," said Mother.
"What a fool," said the freckled duck. "How much time have you wasted on that dud?"
"It's not a dud," said Mother. "I felt something move inside it just this morning."
"Yes. I rolled it over and something squiggled inside."
"You rolled it over?" said the freckled duck. "What are you, a goose? Ducks don't roll their eggs."
"I rolled this egg," said Mother. "And it squiggled. It's alive."
"Well, then, it's dangerous."
"Dangerous?" said Mother.
"Look at it. It's huge."
"A nice size," said Mother. "I'm sure it holds a strong duckling."
"And I'm sure it holds a stranger."
"Quack quack quack quack," said Mother. "What do you mean?"
"I've been asking around," said the freckled duck. "Birds that nest on the ground have babies that hatch all at once. That's how it is, whether you're a duck or a grebe or a plover or ..."
"We've already had this conversation," said Mother. "And, anyway, you're wrong about grebes. They don't nest on the ground; their nests float in the water."
"Picky, picky," said the freckled duck. "The point is, their eggs all hatch at once. Now, goshawks-they're different. Their eggs hatch at different times. Goshawks, not ducks. And guess what happens if the second goshawk chick hatches when there's no parent around to feed him?"
"I don't like guessing games," said Mother. But she sat down on top of me and wiggled. She wiggled and wiggled, as though she couldn't get comfortable. I could tell she wanted to know. I did, too.
"Tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell," said my siblings, obligingly.
"The first chick kills the second one. And probably eats him."
"Ewwwwww!" screamed my siblings, in an uncharacteristic chorus.
"That's ghastly," said Mother. "And unduckling-like. Listen to my other ducklings. They would never eat this last one."
"Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never," said my siblings. Oh, I really did like these fellows.
"Exactly," said the freckled duck. "Ducklings don't do that. When this egg hatches, the goshawk that comes out will be gigantic. It'll eat you."
"Yikes!" said my siblings.
I was appalled. I'd never do that.
Mother squirmed on top of me. I longed to hatch. I longed to tell her I'd never ever do that.
"You can't be right," said Mother at last. "I counted my eggs every day. There were no extras."
"Count for me. Start at one and keep going."
"One, two, three, many, many, many more, so many, lots, lots and lots, gobs."
"See?" said the freckled duck. "Just as I suspected. You're a lousy counter. You'd never notice an extra egg."
Mother squirmed. "How on earth could a goshawk egg wind up in my nest?"
"You were stretching just a moment ago," said the freckled duck. "And now and then you go off to eat."
"But quickly," said Mother. "I'm always quick about it. My ducklings beg for a long swim, but I rush them in and out of the water and back to this nest. You can ask them."
"Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask," said my siblings.
"All it takes is a minute," said the freckled duck, "and boom, there's the monster egg."
"Before I leave the nest, I check for predators. Every time. I watch for any little shadow overhead. I'd never get off the nest if there was a goshawk about. Never."
"Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never," said my siblings, but they didn't sound totally confident.
"You'd better go back to your own nest," said Mother. "A goshawk could lay an egg in yours, you're off it so much."
"A goshawk could never spy my nest," said the freckled duck. "I built it under a bush, not out in the open on a sandy bank, like you. No goshawk will ever eat my eggs."
"That just proves my point," said Mother. "If a goshawk had spied my nest, it would have eaten all my eggs."
Mother was smart.
"Maybe it was a crazy goshawk," said the freckled duck.
"This is not a goshawk egg," said Mother. "This is a good egg."
"Maybe it's something worse than a goshawk," said the freckled duck. "Maybe it's a masked owl."
"No," said Mother. "It's a good egg."
"How do you know?" said the freckled duck.
"How, how, how, how, how, how, how, how?" asked my siblings.
"I just do," said Mother. "It's a sweet egg."
Oh, I loved my mother.
"But you can't deny it's huge," said the freckled duck. "I bet it's an emu."
"Emu, emu, emu, emu, emu, emu, emu, emu," said my siblings in hushed, confused voices.
"Ridiculous," said Mother.
"I should know," said the freckled duck. "To tell you the truth, it happened to me once. An emu laid its egg right in my nest. I wasted a lot of time sitting extra on it. Just like you. Once it hatched, I urged it along with little murmurs of encouragement. And then it didn't even swim. The stupid thing."
"Your nest wasn't here on Dove Lake, was it?" said Mother.
"No. It was up on the mainland of Australia."
"You should have stayed there," said Mother, in a voice that bordered on rude.
"I couldn't. There was a drought. So I had to come south. This is the first time I've bred on this lake. I'm a vagrant down here."
"Oh," said Mother, in an apologetic tone. "I hate arid regions myself. Well, anyway, all that explains your mistake. Emus don't live in Tasmania. They never even visit here."
"Then I was right before," said the freckled duck. "It's a goshawk. You know the old saying, 'The only thing worse for a bird than looking after someone else's young is having those young eat your own.' We should all attack the egg before it attacks us."
"WAR!" screamed the freckled duck. "Get those miniature bills ready, ducklings. It's time to attack."
"Attack?" said a duckling.
"Tack? Tack? Tack? Tack? Tack? Tack? Tack?" came the other ducklings.
"Ridiculous," said Mother. She'd said the same thing before, strongly. But now her voice was weak. I could tell she wouldn't be able to hold up against that bully freckled duck much longer.
I had to do something. And fast. My down was in. As well as the scales on my legs, and the claws on my toes. My abdomen had closed up. I was set to go. And, since it looked like now or never, I chose now.
I swallowed the bubble of air inside my shell. My first breath. It felt great. "Peep," I called, to let Mother know I was coming.
"Quack quack quack quack," came back excitedly.
"Peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep," came the happy voices of my siblings.
Let the pipping start. I pecked and pecked with my bill nail in a nice circle pattern at the blunt end of the egg. This was a tough shell. I chipped harder. Pip pip pip pip pip. For hours.
I could hear the freckled duck come and go several times. She always said the same thing: "When it's out and it causes mayhem, just remember that I recommended attack. Remember remember remember."
Mother never answered her. Nor did my siblings.
I chipped away, hour after hour. Finally, crack. I pressed the back of my head against the middle of the circle and pushed with all my might. Off came the top of the egg. I peeked out. "Peep," I said joyfully.
I blinked at the startling sun. Then I looked around. Eyes, so many eyes, were staring at me anxiously.
"Peep," I said again. I pushed myself up tall through the hole, stretched my sticky wings out into the open air, and stepped neatly from the shell that had been my home for almost a month. How odd it was to feel my full length after being so cramped. How strange to move on my own, with nothing touching me but rays of sunshine. The thrill made me woozy. I wobbled.
"Quack quack," said Mother very slowly. "Quack quack."
"What a big, ugly thing." The freckled duck rose up on her legs and flapped her wings, as if to fan me away. "I told you so. I told you."
"All ducklings are bedraggled when they first hatch." Mother turned her head this way and that, eyeing me from all angles. My siblings craned their necks up at me and did the same. "You just have to look at him the right way," said Mother. "Give him time to dry out, and he'll be fluffy and beautiful like my others."
She was deep glossy brown and as beautiful as her words. I loved her so, so, so much. "Peep," I said gratefully.
"Beautiful? Who are you kidding?" The freckled duck shook her chest, then closed her wings in again. "That thing's as ugly as ugly gets."
Mother suddenly stretched her neck forward and ran at the freckled duck. "Go away! Get out of here!"
The freckled duck raced off. "Remember remember remember," she called.
We clumped together in fright.
Mother gave off the loudest, most raucous quacks I'd heard from her yet. She shook all over. Then she waddled back to us. "Now, ducklings," she said, "never do what I just did unless ..."
"Unless, unless, unless, unless, unless, unless, unless, unless, unless ..." we said.
"Exactly." Mother smoothed her ruffled chest feathers with her bill.
We smoothed the down on our chests, though it wasn't ruffled at all.
"Never attack another duck unless. That's the first rule." She waddled in a circle around us. "Actually, the first rule is: Don't get eaten. The second rule is: Never attack another duck unless." She headed away from the nest.
We followed behind in a straight line, me at the rear. A duckling around the middle of the line looked back at me and blinked several times.
"We are Pacific black ducks," said Mother. "We are peaceable ducks. Gregarious. Good tempered. We grace the waters of Tasmania. You'll see lots of poor behavior in this ducky world. But we don't indulge in it. Got it?"
"Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it," said my siblings.
I stayed silent.
"What about you?" Mother stopped and walked back to me, the rest of the ducklings following her in a loop.
Something in me didn't agree with Mother's words. I could imagine attacking ducks. With or without an "unless." The idea seemed quite natural, in fact. Oh, dear. I must be a bad duck deep inside. Bad, bad duck, I said to myself. But I didn't feel bad. I felt confused. Maybe I should discuss this with Mother. I settled down onto my feet and looked up at Mother, ready to argue.
Her face and slender throat were buff. Her blue-gray bill had a sharp black nail. Two black stripes went from the top of her bill straight up through her eyes, which were liquid brown and fastened on me. My mother was a striking beauty. In that moment my love for her was so great, all I wanted was to obey her. "Got it," I chirped.
The duckling who had blinked at me before, now stretched tall, turned in a circle, and blinked at me again. Her face was pleasant. It radiated goodwill.
Mother turned and we ducklings followed her path exactly, in and out the sedges. "Stay close. That's rule number three."
Excerpted from Ugly by Donna Jo Napoli Copyright © 2006 by Donna Jo Napoli. Excerpted by permission.
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