Gertie, the Darling Duck of WWII

In 1945, the attention of the United States, along with the rest of the world, was focused on World War II. After more than five years of fighting, downcast, war-weary people were looking for signs of hope of a better future. One April morning, a duck searching for a nesting spot lands on a tall post sticking out of the Milwaukee River. Situated near a busy drawbridge and the noisy city of Milwaukee, this was an unlikely, precarious spot for a soon-to-be-mama duck to build her nest. But that is exactly where Gertie (named by a local reporter) decides to make her home and lay her eggs. Once local newspapers report the story, crowds begin visiting the bridge to watch Gertie and speculate how she will safely hatch her babies. Soon, news outlets around the world are carrying the hopeful tale of the plucky duck, raising spirits, and giving readers a shared sense of community. ~Publisher

Writing Gertie, the Darling Duck of WWII

Years ago, I found a dusty old book in a used book store in Cambria, California: Animals You Will Never Forget, 72 True Stories from the Reader’s Digest. One of the stories was “The Duck that Took Milwaukee by Storm” by Gordon Gaskill. The book was aptly named as I never forgot Gertie. I love stories about people from all walks of life coming together to accomplish a remarkable thing. Gertie’s story was particularly compelling to me as it seemed like such a hopeful moment in a dark period in our history. When I was in school for my MFA, I remembered Gertie, and went to work, digging up the story, doing the research, and crafting a non-fiction picture book about her.


“Gertie’s heartwarming tale delights and distracts today as it did in 1945.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

“Swanson’s writing is lively, and the duck family’s saga remains engaging, particularly within its historical context.” — Booklist

“A delightful historical tale that will encourage young people to find similar “good news” stories in their world today. Recommended.” –School Library Journal

“Inspired by a true story that brought light in a dark time, this picture book shows how even a spark of hope can make all the difference. In 1945, Gertie the duck built her nest on a precarious post in the Milwaukee River. The local fascination turned into an international sensation as people around the world found inspiration and encouragement in this plucky duck and her family as they survived against all odds. The colored pencil illustrations reflect a war-weary city’s transformation as spirits rise.” —Foreword Reviews

“A more heartwarming story would be hard to find! The illustrations by Renee Graef might look familiar as she illustrated the Little House books! These are done in pencil, in soft colors depicting the world of 1945. Back pages provide photographs of Gertie and the times in which she lived. “And Gertie has taken our minds off some of the ugly things around her; she even helps us forget, for a few minutes, the horrible bungle that man has made of the world.” —Youth Services Book Review


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