Ulrich Hub trained as an actor and now lives in Berlin, Germany. He works as a director for stage and writes plays, screenplays and children’s books, which have won numerous awards.
What inspired the story of the blind chicken and the duck with a limp?
When we use these phrases in German we don’t think about real animals but of human beings. A duck with a limp is a person who is quite slow and extremely boring, a blind chicken is someone incompetent, who has unexpected success by sheer luck. When I decided to take these expressions literally, I suddenly had two birds with real disabilities. The question was, how could they overcome their disabilities and become a really good team.
We find this story funny and philosophical. What is important to you about this book?
First of all, thank you for suggesting the term philosophical. If you could see me now I’m blushing— like the duck in my story often does. Because if you asked any of my friends to describe me, they would come up with a lot of words—but no one ever would describe me as philosophical. Actually, I found out recently, that someone said I would rather lose a friend than miss the chance to make a joke. At first, I felt furious, because friendship has such a high value in my books as it does in life, and I was eager to find out who that person was. But then I said to myself, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Nobody is perfect, but a good sense of humour always helps.
Do you think it’s hard to write humour for children, and do you think there is enough of it in children’s books?
Humour is essential for me. I don’t write any differently for children or adults. Often laughing is the only way for me to handle an intense situation. We Germans tend to be too serious, and comedy is not so highly regarded. Often enough, laughing and weeping merge into one another. We laugh when we feel like crying and we burst into tears while we laugh. The story about these two birds is both—in my eyes.
The epigraph in this book is “The goal is in the way”. What does that mean to you? It is kind of back to front?
It’s an old proverb and more commonly used in my language. Essentially, the proverb implies that the goal or destination is not as important as the metaphorical journey taken to get there, and that the experience gained is the true reward. But if you put the words in a different order, a possible meaning can be that these two birds—especially the chicken—are in such a hurry that they overlook the destination, and the longer the journey takes, the more they forget about the goal. That’s my interpretation, but I don’t object if others see this differently—even if they think that it’s just nonsense.
What role do Jörg Mühle’s illustrations play in the story?
Duck’s Backyard is our fourth book together and I couldn’t think of anyone better than him to illustrate my characters. He’s totally independent and always brings the story to another level. Usually, I send him the first draft, he begins to draw, and then we meet in person—but only once, when I get the chance to have a look at his sketchbook. Last time I saw a huge variety of all kinds of ducks and chickens and I could pick my favourites—this was quite hard, because each one was so special. Then he withdraws himself, doesn’t respond to any of my emails and doesn’t even answer any calls from our editor. At a point when we all get really nervous, he finally reveals these amazing drawings, so funny, loveable and unexpected—with so many details that even now I am still finding new things to see.
Do you recognise your story in translation? What were the difficulties and joys of reading it in English?
Gecko Press and especially Helena Kirkby did an amazing job. I don’t think that anything has been lost and the humour of the original is all still there in English—sometimes it feels for me as if it’s even funnier. In the end the chicken feels “like going to paradise”—that’s exactly how it feels for me.
All images © Jörg Mühle
Duck’s Backyard | Available from all good bookstores and our website
A very funny and philosophical illustrated chapter book by a bestselling author/illustrator pair, in which a duck with a limp takes a blind hen on a goose chase, as they search for adventure and answers to some big questions.