I’ve always thought it exceedingly odd that there are two well-known songs for young children that feature ducks, and one is called “Five Little Ducks,” while the other is “Six Little Ducks.” I’ve sung ’em both (not at the same time) for a long while, and I posted “Six Little Ducks” here some time ago. (If I had to choose one as my favorite, I’d choose the Six, as it’s happy and goofy all the way through. But I like the Five, too.)

The fact that I like “Five Little Ducks” doesn’t mean, however, that I’m not troubled by the fact that up until the penultimate line, this is a really tragic song. Like in a bad crime thriller, the mother of the Five Little Ducks is losing her children one by one. Is it a kidnapper? A child molester? A serial killer? The Big Bad Wolf?

We never do find out. (My wife rolls her eyes at my suggestion of serial killers and says, “They’re just exploring; you know, asserting their independence.”) But at least they’re all returned to her in the triumphant climax. Whenever I sing the song with kids, I always stop somewhere between verses to ask, “Well, where did they go? Where do you think they are? I sure hope we find them.” When I get to the verse in which the “sad mother duck” does her “quack, quack, quack,” I do it very melodramatically and mournfully, with a loud snurgly sniffle. And when the five ducklings reappear, I sing it with a happy smile and a cheer.

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