If ever there was a fairytale about bullying, The Ugly Duckling is it. Hans Christian Anderson penned his classic stories beginning in 1835 — about 183 years ago! I decided to read this story to third grade, starting with a traditional version:
I had not read the story in years, and I was shocked at how awful it truly is. Before he even hatched, the mother duck is urged to abandon the larger egg and care for the kids she has. It’s very callus to say the least. I don’t want to get into politics but it reminded me of the idea of flippantly ending an unwanted pregnancy.
Then once he hatches, the mother duck quickly says she thinks he’s ugly. I was glad she stood up for him (slightly) in the barnyard, but the other farm birds pick at him and even his siblings join in. Can you imagine announcing that a child is ugly and then, just because he looked in your direction, smacking him?!? No.
There is more to the story, but suffice to say he is miserable. No one really shows him any affection except maybe the man who rescues him from freezing, and that is short-lived in the man’s chaotic home. The duckling is so utterly cowed and broken emotionally by all of this mistreatment that his is willing to let the beautiful swans kill him. This, of course, is when he realizes that he was a swan all along, and finally feels he has some worth.
It’s about bullying, but I think the message is off. None of the characters truly sees him as worthwhile until he changes over the winter, but the kids and I all think his worth wasn’t in his appearance, or at least it wouldn’t have been if it had been written today.
There are a lot of versions available, I have the book by Cauley (above), and an old Weekly Reader version.
I’d like to get Jerry Pinkney’s version next year.
There are some weird ones out there too:
Yeah, not high on my wish list.
This story does have a great parody to offset the seriousness of the story:
I’ve told you about Willy Clafin and Maynard Moose before. If you buy this one, get the CD, you won’t regret it!
This is a story that would need softening before I’d read it to little kids. I know there are kinder versions out there, but I’m going to keep it in 3rd grade in my school.
Just as a fun aside, the ugly duckling is quite prevalent in our pop culture. I’ll bet you’ve seen a movie or two where the nerdy girl is asked to prom by the cute boy on a dare and when she takes off her thick glasses she magically becomes beautiful.
Disney even made a reference to the story in one of my all-time favorite movies, Lilo and Stitch.
To quote Maynard Moose:
We are all a beautiful something or other…especially you.