We often search for many years to find a family who accepts us, protects us, and offers the love for which we yearn. Some of us are born into families like that, while others seek that family outside our relatives.
For animals, there are true stories of one species adopting the young of another, but it is rare that two species who are “kind of enemies” in nature come together as family. The Loon Project, based in Minnesota and Wisconsin, discovered a loon family caring for a mallard duckling. From May to August 2019, researchers recorded observations and documented photos of a loon couple whose own offspring disappeared and their care and feeding of a baby duckling.
This book, Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Wolves, written by Laura Purdie Salas, is outstanding for several reasons. Telling this story in free form verse with essential word choices, evokes wonder, caring, and tears. She addresses unanswerable questions with the refrain “Nobody knows.”
It succeeds as a read-out-loud and lap-sitting story, a picture book for older readers, a nature book, and most especially a science book that helps us understand that so many aspects of life don’t have answers.
Squarely based on research with primary and secondary sources, as well as knowledge gained while writing her own Secrets of the Loon with photographer Charles Dayton (Minnesota Historical Society Press), this book will also serve as a mentor text. How does an author deal with unanswered questions? How does one find the tension in a true story? How does word choice make this narrative nonfiction of the best kind?
Alexandria Neonakis, born and raised in Nova Scotia, currently living in Los Angeles, created digital illustrations in a palette of blues, greens, and browns that are soft and watery, adding details that set us firmly within the natural world of water birds. Her loons and duckling are completely bird-like and yet there are moments of tenderness.
While the text raises the question of the future, it tells us that “Mother and Father and Duckling have only now,” and the double-page spread is alight with fireflies against the backdrop of night on a northern lake. Fireflies are very much a part of “now.” The final spread is filled with the possibility offered by the morning light.
The back matter shares the true story, points out the many differences between mallards and loons, and helps us understand why the “intruder” in the story brought so much danger. A bibliography and further reading list will help readers who can’t get enough of loons carry on their own discoveries.
In 2014, we began winter game nights for six consecutive weeks on Fridays. The group of game-loving people we gathered for these nights has become family. The Game Knights support one another in joy and in sadness, celebrating and grieving. The author, one of the Game Knights, dedicated this book to our found family.