GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1972
by Krystyna Turska
Interests: folktales, Poland, country life, ducks, kindness to animals, pets
Bartek is a very poor man who lives all alone save for his pet duck, whom he loves dearly. One day he helps a frog out of some rose thorns. The frog turns out to be the Frog King, who teaches Bartek a tune which, when whistled, calls up a violent storm. Bartek is just wondering how on earth he can use this gift when a large army marches by his home. The chieftain, the Great Hetman, spots Bartek’s duck and demands it for his dinner. Bartek pleads, the Great Hetman will not relent. Bartek starts to whistle. The wind becomes so intense that Hetman and all his soldiers are blown high into the sky. Frightened, Hetman promises to spare the duck but when Bartek stops the wind the chieftain again demands the duck for supper. An angry Bartek whistles up a rainstorm next, which threatens to drown everyone. When the waters subside the army is ashamed of Hetman’s behavior, and they proclaim Bartek as their new chieftain. Everyone continues on their way, Bartek in his new finery on the commander’s horse with his duck sitting before him on his saddle.
Kindness wins out over bluster and power. A winning folktale from Poland, with a refreshingly gentle hero. And his duck. The colourful illustrations are evocative of medieval art, and successfully depict all the colour and drama of the army and the Great Hetman. I also liked the detailed village scenes – Bartek is ignored or ridiculed by his neighbours in the beginning, but rides through in all his glory at the end, the peasants bowing before him.