Thursday, July 19, 2018

Texas trail to calamity: a Miss Mallard mystery by Robert Quackenbush

This is another title in Aladdin's new imprint, Quix, which features reprints and updated editions of early chapter books in a new layout for contemporary readers.

I remember the Miss Mallard mysteries, and several other Robert Quackenbush titles, from my own youth and was interested to see if they hold up to the test of time.

Miss Mallard is a duck detective, traveling the world to solve crimes. In this title, originally published in 1986, Miss Mallard is on vacation in Texas when she's thrown by her horse and ends up spending the night with the Butterballs. During her stay, she witnesses some mysterious behavior that culminates in the theft of an important document - "a list of the first three hundred duck families who settled in Texas". Luckily, with the skills of Miss Mallard, the thief is discovered and the document is safely taken to the museum.

Quackenbush's distinctive drawings, with heavy crosshatching and multiple shadows, have been somewhat lightened in some of the spot illustrations. Some full-page drawings are also included. As much as Quackenbush's art is part of my childhood, I have to say that it doesn't age well. The hats and almost Victorian style of the clothing, the dark, muddy drawings, and the cluttered backgrounds are not likely to appeal to most contemporary children. The Miss Mallard books in particular have not, I think, aged well and a mystery involving the (white duck?) settlers of Texas with no reference to the native or Mexican inhabitants who came first is rather tone-deaf.

Verdict: A nostalgic sigh for my youth, and I might be tempted to pick up some titles from other series, but these are unlikely to find an audience with children, unless their parents were fans in their own youth.

ISBN: 9781534413108; This edition published May 2018 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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