Parrot Street Book Club in the UK have chosen Duck’s Backyard for their book subscription pack. This funny and philosophical illustrated chapter book by Ulrich Hub and Jörg Mühle tells the story of a duck with a limp and a blind chicken searching for adventure and answers to some big questions.
Ulrich Hub answered some questions for the book club.
What inspired you to write Duck’s Backyard?
The attempt to tell an exciting and moving story with only two characters, set in a single place and told without any shifts in time— i.e. a story that lasts the same time as it takes to read the book aloud.
What were the challenges of the translation process?
The challenges were for the translator and the publisher. The phrase “lame duck” in the original title is a political term in the United States so was an unhelpful association for the duck! So they found a new title. They also had to decide on a gender for the duck—which is gender-neutral in German. I am really enthusiastic about the translation and even find the story funnier in English. Some of the punchlines work better because the sentences are shorter in English.
What message would you like young readers to take away from the book?
Fears are simply part of life. They spur some people to perform; for others they can be paralysing. The duck with the wonky leg sees danger everywhere and only feels safe behind high walls, while the blind chicken is afraid of nothing in the world—less a sign of courage than of delusions of grandeur. Luckily, the chicken finds someone who slows her down a little. In reading the book, children can experience how handicaps and obstacles can be overcome together. I myself have experienced time and again that our wishes change over time. Children also experience this at an early age.
Who would you say you are more like, Duck or Chicken, and in what ways?
Difficult question! I can’t answer that myself so I asked my characters. The duck says I am just like the chicken: impatient, megalomaniac—but the chicken claims I have much more in common with the duck than I would like. In short, they both firmly deny any resemblance to their author.
Why do you choose to write books for this age group?
I don’t think of any particular age group when I write. I try to talk about subjects like fear, life and death in such a simple way that every child can easily understand—and even laugh at them too. As an author, nothing makes me happier than hearing the laughter of children—and adults. Laughter requires empathy. There is comedy in the darkest places, which is where it’s needed most.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I read nothing but Donald Duck. My parents were desperate. While writing this, I realise for the first time that Donald is a duck too.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I wish I could say my desk, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. For one and a half years my two characters haunted me 24/7. They were constantly on my mind, everywhere I went, but every morning at 10:00 at my desk, the duck and chicken were no-shows, just like children skipping class.
Which other German books for younger readers that are available in English would you recommend our subscribers read next?
To answer in an unbiased way, I again asked my two characters. This time, the chicken and the duck surprisingly agreed and both suggested their next adventure: Duck’s Swimming Pool. In the sequel, they go to the outdoor pool together for the first time, but right at the entrance there are problems. The pool is for ducks only. But a blind chicken is not so easily turned away, and the longer she stays, alone among hundreds of ducks at the pool … but I don’t want to give away the ending here, before the book is even translated.*
*A note from Gecko Press: if you can’t wait for Ulrich’s next book to be available, try his first book in English, Meet at the Ark at Eight!, which is also illustrated by Jörg Mühle. We also recommend Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner—still excellent after all these years—and Andreas Steinhofel’s The Pasta Detectives.