The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks

Written By: Katherine Paterson

Illustrated By: Leo and Diane Dillon

Before Reading

In The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, Yasuko and Shozo go to great lengths to reunite two beautiful mandarin duck and are rewarded in an unusual way. Before you begin reading, discuss the book’s cover and illustrations, as well as any predictions your child may have about the story and what will occur. Talk about these topics and others by asking questions like:

What do you notice on the front cover?

What do you think will happen in this story?

Where do you think this story takes places?

Why do you think the man is wearing an eye-patch?

This folk tale is about the mandarin duck, a highly regarded animal in the Japanese culture. It symbolizes love and fidelity as these animals live in couples and mourn if they are separated from their mate. Discuss why this may be important for this story and your predictions.

As You Read

As you read, take time to discuss the different characters that are described in the story, including the cruel lord, Shozo, Yasuko and the two mandarin ducks. Talk about their varying motives and decisions and ask your child about what s/he thinks will happen as a result. For example, when Yasuko sees that the mandarin duck is unhappy in captivity and decides to free him, ask, “Do you think she made the right decision in setting him free? Why or why not? Do you think there will be consequences for her actions? What kinds of consequences? What would you have done if you had been in her position?” When Shozo chooses to take the blame for bird’s escape, ask, “Why did he take responsibility? The lord didn’t want the bird anymore but was still upset when it was gone. Why do you think that is? What do you think will happen next?”

Vocabulary Building

As you read, encourage your child to discover the meaning of words that s/he may not be familiar with. Let him/her use the surrounding words and illustrations to figure out each word’s meaning. Examples of new words in The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks include:




After Reading

There is one sentence that Shozo says to Yasuko that encapsulates the entire message of the story: “It is not foolish to show compassion for a fellow creature.” Discuss this quote with your child as well as the story as a whole by asking questions like:

What was your favorite part of the story? Why?

Why did Yasuko release the mandarin duck from the lord?

What did Shozo mean when he said, “It is not foolish to show compassion for a fellow creature”? Can you think of a time when you have shown compassion to other people or animals?

Who were the two kind messengers? Why did they save Shozo and Yasuko?

How are Shozo and Yasuko like the mandarin ducks?

You can learn more about the symbolism of Mandarin Ducks and their use in Feng Shui here.

Activities: Learn More About Japan and Make An Origami Mandarin Duck!

Learn More About Japan


Use resources like this on the internet to teach your child about Japan. Help your child learn information from its flag and location to some of its cultural elements. Ask your child if s/he could see some of these cultural elements in the story.

Make An Origami Mandarin Duck

Inspired by Alive Origami

Supplies: Square sheet of yellow/orange paper

You and your child can create a pair of mandarin ducks to put on display in your home. Let your child know that origami is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding and that you will work together to create two origami mandarin ducks. Here is step-by-step tutorial that can be found on YouTube.

  1. Take your sheet and fold in half so that it forms a triangle.
  2. Unfold your sheet and place it on a diagonal so that the corners are pointing straight up and down. Now take the left and right sides in so that they meet at the center fold.
  3. Turn the paper over so that the center fold is facing up and fold the top edge down to the bottom edge.
  4. Take the piece that you just folded and fold it over again in the opposite direction. Now take the other tip and fold it toward the center.
  5. Pick up the paper so that the corners are pointing up and down and fold so that the two points meet.
  6. Now pull slightly up on the flap so that is sits up, creating the duck’s neck. Pull the beak up and push down so that it begins to form the head of the duck.