Resolving conflict

The Duck in the Gun is a classic story that highlights the futility of war and the importance of communication.

Cover of The Duck in the Gun by Joy Cowley.(external link)

Cover of The Duck in the Gun by Joy Cowley (most recently published by Walker Books, 2009).

Cover of The Duck in the Gun by Joy Cowley (most recently published by Walker Books, 2009).

  • This book is available from libraries and bookstores and viewed in digital format in the International Children’s Digital Library at link)


This story, first published in 1969, was written as an anti-war protest by New Zealand author Joy Cowley. Her cousin was serving in Vietnam at the time she wrote it. The book tells the story of a made-up war in a made-up place where a duck builds her nest inside the gun and pauses the war. The strategies that the army’s general uses to try to keep the war going are both funny and likely to start serious discussions about what we value in times of war and what the wider roles of soldiers are in peacekeeping and rebuilding. The power of dialogue in understanding and resolving conflict is apparent in this story.

During the First World War, negotiating a peace agreement was difficult. The Treaty of Versailles took months to negotiate, and some of the terms are still controversial. This treaty was an agreement between Germany and the Allied powers (including France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and others) to formally end the First World War. It was signed on 28 June 1919 at the Palace of Versailles in France. Fighting had already ended at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, when the
armistice was signed.

Key questions

  • What can we observe?
  • What do we already know?
  • How might people view this book in different ways?

Possible discussion questions

  • Who are the main characters in this book? How do they contribute to creating or resolving conflict?
  • How do you think the people in the village felt at the beginning, middle, and end of the story?
  • Why did the general want to shoot at the village but not shoot the gun with the duck inside?
  • What happened in the story that made the characters change their mind about the war?
  • The general asked to borrow a gun so that the fighting would be fair. Do you think conflict should be fair? What rules might you make to ensure a conflict between people in your class is fair?
  • What do you think might be some differences between the war in the story and a real war?
  • Do you think conflict is a good or bad thing? Can it be both? How can you decide whether conflict is good or bad?
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