Back in June 2000, Eva Moore of Montauk was reading a story in The East Hampton Star about a family of ducks rescued from a storm drain near Kirk Park by members of the Montauk Fire Department and a visiting tourist. Immediately, the author of some 22 children’s books realized it would make a good picture book. It took more than 10 years to find a publisher, get it illustrated, and get it on bookstore shelves, but just a couple of weeks after its Feb. 1 release, it had already won an award and sold more than 10,000 copies.
In the book, called “Lucky Ducklings‚” Ms. Moore acknowledges the three firefighters: Paul Greenwood, Dennis Sisco, and Joe Lenahan, who even had a duckling named after him — Little Joe. And Perry Aaland, the tourist and contractor from Lindenhurst, who was in the right place at the right time with a “monster” pickup truck that had a winch and cable attached to it.
The saga of the mother duck and her five ducklings began when she decided to take them out for a stroll. An attendant watched as she waddled through the Kirk Park parking lot, heading back to Fort Pond on the opposite side of Montauk Highway on a warm Sunday morning.
She stepped off a curb near a storm drain and as the little ducks followed behind her they fell one by one into the drain. The attendant saw it happen and called for help. In the meantime, Mama Duck quacked loudly and kept spectators away.
But when the three Fire Department volunteers showed up, they quickly realized the grate covering the drain was old and heavy and would not be an easy lift. Mr. Aaland, who was enjoying a hot dog from a nearby vending truck, offered his help. He attached the cable to the grate and used the winch on the truck to haul it up.
Once open, Mr. Greenwood climbed into the drain, which was about eight feet deep, and handed up the ducklings to Mr. Lenahan, who put them in a bucket. At this point the mother duck, confused, kept trying to cross the busy highway back toward the pond. Two little girls on the scene kept chasing her back from the road.
Finally, when all the ducklings were in the bucket, Fire Department volunteers stopped traffic and placed the ducklings on a grassy area on the north side of the road near the pond. Mama followed, and the six of them waddled toward the water as if nothing had ever happened.
And just as Ms. Moore writes in the book, “that could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t because . . .” she told the tale, with illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, a highly acclaimed, award-winning illustrator who lives in Brooklyn. She visited Montauk before she drew the pictures for the book and has managed to capture the pond-side setting quite literally.
Ms. Moore, who had been an editor and writer at Scholastic Books in Manhattan for over 40 years, knew when she was handed a good tale. “All the fortunate circumstances just fell into place. I thought, ‘This has to be a picture book.’ ”
After editing the tale down from 40 pages to the standard 32 for a children’s book, she pitched it in script form to a friend who still worked at Scholastic. And then she waited. Book publishing apparently takes a long time. Two years later she received a contract that she was more than ready to sign.
Ms. Carpenter has illustrated over 30 books for children, and was unavailable at first because she was working on other projects. But Ms. Moore, knowing her work, said the three-year wait would be worth it.
During that time, though, Ms. Moore said she got a bit tired of waiting and told Scholastic that if the book wasn’t going to be published she wanted the rights back. Just when she thought things would get moving, Ms. Carpenter got pregnant. “Another delay,” Ms. Moore said, laughing, from her house in Montauk, where she has lived full time since 1998.
Finally, in May 2010, she met with an editor and things progressed. She was asked how much editing an experienced editor needs. “Every writer needs an editor,” she emphatically stated.
Ms. Moore’s children’s books include four in the Magic School Bus series, two anthologies, and a Bible! It’s a brightly illustrated children’s Bible published by Scholastic that retells the Old and New Testaments to make them clearer for children. When she writes, she sometimes sits on a double-seated glider in her spacious backyard, right next to a painted wooden shed that looks as if it could accommodate a fairy tale princess or family of talking rabbits.
On Feb. 8, Ms. Moore received a letter notifying her that “Lucky Ducklings” had been named a Junior Library Guild selection for spring 2013. The letter states that the designation is unique, as it is given out early, often in advance of publication, and is viewed as a bellwether of future success. She received a lapel pin and plaque.
Ms. Moore was also invited to be a guest at the American Library Association’s midwinter conference in Seattle. The book is doing so well, in fact, that she might just put aside the novel she has been working on about a 19th-century female artist to write another children’s book.