It is hard to decide whether The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling is a children’s book or a work of art. Upon opening, a golden Turneresque landscape sets the tone for the exquisite illustrations within. Every brushstroke is visible in these enchanting and highly emotive mini-masterpieces that perfectly complement Ering’s carefully chosen narrative of sparing beauty.
This is the tale of a duckling called Alfred who, still un-hatched is sailing home with Captain Alfred, his fiddle and an old pooch until a raging storm of frantic blue, green and foaming white brushstrokes separates them all. After the storm we are given two pages of ethereal and lightly painted fog sprinkled with a handful of words; a moment of silence in which to ponder the loneliness that Alfred now finds himself faced with.
Left to hatch in the floating fiddle case on a lonely, foggy and storm tossed sea, Alfred comes across the captain’s fiddle and clings to it for dear life. Hugging the instrument so as it too won’t feel lonely, Alfred finds to his great joy and wonder that it makes the most magical sound he’s ever heard. These are the beginnings of his musical gift.
The brushstrokes soften as Alfred’s music floats up to merge with a pale sky, as the sea turns a gentler green and as Alfred falls in love with the instrument. As he plays he comes to find land and even friendship with the initially fearful captain’s dog that comes bounding through the fog. A happy reunion sees the dancing dog and fiddle playing duck delight in their new-found companionship, as Ering profoundly writes; ‘being lost with a friend was much better than being lost alone’.
This little book takes children on a child-size rollercoaster ride exploring feelings of loss, fear and courage and the power of music and friendship. For adults it is perhaps a chance reminder of the values we sometimes forget to cherish in our very grown-up everyday lives. The joy of this book is that one could almost tell the story by the illustrations alone, expressive as they are, while the narration adds layers of emotion. The happy ending is accompanied with swirls of joyful colour that appear simultaneously like birds and sound.
This is not a traditional love story, but a love story it is. It is the story of a duck’s love for a fiddle and that no matter how big and scary the sea we find ourselves in, friendship and music matter.