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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Happy, feel-good story’: Spokane attorney writes children’s book about Spokane’s viral 2008 duckling rescue

In May 2008, Spokane banker Joel Armstrong had been keeping tabs on a mother duck and her 10 eggs, nested on the concrete awning outside his second-floor downtown office window, for weeks.

One morning, Armstrong watched as the mother mallard flew down to the sidewalk and started quacking up at her day-old ducklings, at least 10 feet above. The first fuzzy bird waddled to the ledge’s edge and leapt.

Normally, Armstrong said, he doesn’t interfere with nature.

“But then I saw one hit (the concrete) and bounce … my heart just opened and I had to go over and help.”

Armstrong ran outside, stood under the awning and caught the ducklings one by one before setting them on the sidewalk with their mother. Then he escorted the entire duck family – the first duckling was stunned but lived – to the Spokane River.

Nearly 16 years later, in 2024, another Spokane man, attorney Richard Repp, has preserved Armstrong’s 2008 heroics in a children’s book, “The Downtown Ducks.”

“I just always thought it was such a cute story, I just thought, well, that’s a perfect children’s story,” Repp said. “The building where it happened, the Cutter Tower, my office was in the US Bank building right next door … everyone was talking about it at the time.”

Indeed, after an email chronicling the event went viral, Armstrong’s actions, which he repeated when the mallard nested there for a few more years, received national and even foreign attention.

“A lot of people just were enthralled by the story,” Armstrong said. “It was during a tough time in the banking industry, and it was some really good, positive news just to make people happy.”

Repp referenced 2008 and 2009 Spokesman-Review stories about Spokane’s “duck guy” when creating “The Downtown Ducks.” In 2009, the ducklings hatched on the same day as the Lilac Parade.

“2009 was the year that the parade was involved; 2008 was the year that it first happened. I took some artistic license and I tried to just combine the two years into one story,” he said.

Though Repp wrote the book alone, he illustrated it with the help of his mother Mary, 79, and daughter Anya, 12.

“I wanted my mom to be involved as a sort of a legacy for my mom because my mom was an artist that really contributed to my interest in art and books,” he said.

Growing up, Repp wanted to be a cartoon artist.

As for his daughter, “she already enjoyed doing art and so this was kind of fun for us, to be sitting at the kitchen table together, doing it together,” Repp said. “She was one of the ones that kept sort of egging me on, like, ‘When are you gonna finish your book, Dad? When are you gonna finish your book? I want to see it.’ ”

Repp wrote and illustrated the book over several months starting in winter 2022. When he made some copies via Shutterfly and distributed them to friends and family in 2023, “they loved it.”

“A lot of people were surprised to have learned that I could even draw because I haven’t really used my drawing in years,” he said. “Initially this was just a gift for family, but it was so well received, and people embraced it and I was like, ‘OK, well, if people enjoy it, let’s share.’ ”

Repp reached out to Armstrong in the fall and told him about the book. Armstrong bought copies for himself and his family.

“I thought it was a great job just telling the story, but I loved his artwork because he did it himself,” Armstrong said. “He’s a great artist.”

In writing “The Downtown Ducks,” Repp hopes to ensure the survival of Spokane’s duck story.

“Over time people forget about news stories, but there are certain children’s books that last forever,” he said. “I read ‘Curious George’ to my children and Dr. Seuss to my children. It was the same books that I read when I was a child.

“For me, creating a children’s story was a way to preserve the story and to pass it on to my children. It’s just such a fun, heartwarming, happy, feel-good story. I think it’s important to preserve it”

“The Downtown Ducks” can be purchased online at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Walmart or ThriftBooks.

Roberta Simonson's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.