I was born loving turtles. Okay, I’m not completely positive this is true but I know I cannot recall a time I didn’t love turtles. My pet red-eared slider, Earl, has lived with me for over twenty years. Here he is doing yoga.
My large collection of turtle figurines resides next to Earl’s tank. My collection of children’s books featuring turtles takes up a whole shelf. And what better day to share a few of those books than World Turtle Day?
By Zibby Oneal
Illustrated by Margot Tomes
Out of Print
Poor Snail, he just wants a friend but “nobody wants a friend in a shell.” A shell can’t hop or fly or fit in a hole. Then Snail meets Turtle! Now they each have a friend in a shell.
When Snail gives Turtle a mud pie for his birthday, Fly, Ant and Bee all tell him that turtles don’t eat mud, but Snail knows what his friend likes. Snail brings the gift to his friend. Turtle loves it so much that he promptly sits on it.
Turtle explains that turtles don’t eat mud; they love to sit in it! But Snail is so sad that he pulls his head far into his shell and doesn’t hear how much Turtle loves his present.
Snail, convinced that Turtle thinks he is dumb, decides he must find a new friend. But Baby Robin and Fly flew off and Ant ran down a hole, so Snail decides to visit Turtle one more time. He finds Turtle stuck on his back in the tall grass. Snail gets Grasshopper, Ant, Fly and Baby Robin to help tip Turtle back onto his feet. Now they are all good friends!
By Steve Sanfield
Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer
Out of Print
An old man, who used to be quite a cowboy, tells a story from his youth about how he made and lost a million dollars before he was old enough to vote. After a long cattle drive he liked to enjoy a meal at Frenchy’s Gourmet Eating Establishment and Pizza Parlor in Kansas City. During one such meal he had the best thing he’d ever eaten in his life, a bowl of turtle soup. Although it was quite delicious, he was shocked to see the teeny tiny bowl cost an overpriced $4.00!
He had an idea, he would head back to his home state of Texas to capture as many turtles as he could and sell them to the restaurant.
Before long he had a herd of twenty thousand turtles. He was going to be rich! But first he had to get them to Frenchy’s. He was unable to recruit any of his fellow cowboys for the turtle drive, and was forced to go it alone.
Driving turtles was slow going, and the tired cowboy couldn’t get a moments rest; as soon as he stopped circling the herd, the turtles would start to disperse. The cowboy realized that he could flip the turtles on their back and keep them from deserting. He finally got some rest.
Soon he realized that all the walking was rough on those little turtle feet; in lieu of turtle shoes he slipped large paper clips onto the turtles’ feet. The paper clips worked, and the turtles moved faster, but winter was coming and they needed to be protected from the cold. The cowboy paid a farmer to dig a trench so the turtles could hibernate.
When the cowboy dug up the turtles in the spring his herd had grown to forty-two thousand! Though they were moving faster, it was a long way from Texas to Kansas City and it took many years. Each winter the cowboy buried the herd, and each spring he’d dig them up to find more, until he had five hundred thousand turtles!
After five years had passed, they all arrived in Kansas City. Frenchy’s had closed! So, they all turned around and headed back to Texas. Good thing they knew the way!
By Edith G. Stull
Illustrated by Mamoru Funai
Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Out of Print
This is a delightfully odd book with some very funny non-sequiturs. Also, the illustrations reek of 1964 and are clearly stereotypical of that era. Think: the artwork on greeting cards you’d find stored away in an old case in someone’s attic.
Our narrator, a nameless young boy, is very upset; his turtle, Boxer, is sick. The boy asks his father what to do. His father says to give Boxer some food but it doesn’t help. He asks his teacher but she says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help turtles. Ask the pet shop man.”
When the boy asks the pet shop man to help Boxer, Mr. Riley says “Boxer will die.” (Don’t sugar coat it Mr. Riley!) Then Boxer dies.
The boy cries. Then he puts Boxer in a small wood box, ties a ribbon around it and buries it near the old oak tree. Then this happens:
“Tommy said, “Leave food for Boxer.” I said, “No, dead turtles don’t eat.” Billy said, “Leave water for Boxer.” I said, “No dead turtles don’t drink.” Tommy said, “Is Boxer in heaven?” Billy said, “My mother’s in heaven.” I said, “But now you have a new mother.” Billy said, “Yes, now I have two mothers.”
Then, on the very next page, this happens.
‘”What’s that?” Tommy said. There in the leaves, near the kitchen door, Patty’s babies had just been born. “There are three babies,” Billy said. “Look at Patty lick them,” Tommy said. One of the kittens made the funniest cry. It was hungry.”
While the boys play with the kittens, Tommy asks if the kittens will die too. Billy says, “All living things must die.” The narrator says the kittens will not die for a long time.
“They have to live first, before they die.”
“Billy said, “I’m hungry. Tommy said, “Me too. Let’s go to my house to get something to eat.” I said, “Yes, let’s go get something and we will bring something for Patty to eat. She is hungry, too.”‘
The boys headed to Tommy’s house to have lunch. The end.
By Sandol Stoddard
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Out of Print
Lynn Munsinger has illustrated several books for children, including Tacky the Penguin. It’s probably no surprise that Turtle Time is my favorite of her books; it’s also one of my favorite turtle books. The title refers to the act of a turtle pulling in his head and limbs—going inside himself—for some quiet time; it’s also something our young narrator, an exuberant red-haired girl, likes to do. She crawls into her bed, snuggles deep under the covers and enjoys a little peace.
In a bouncy, sing-song-y rhyme, the young girl—wearing the most adorable red shoes—tells the story of finding a small turtle egg that was in the process of hatching. Once the baby turtle fully emerged, the joyous girl named him Fred and promised to bring him home to keep her company. She imagines all the wonderful activities they will share!
But when she picked him up, he retracted into his mobile home. The persistent miss brings Fred home anyway. Eventually, he peeks out from his shell and has this to say;
“And when I hold him in my hand, we close our eyes and understand. Our little song, our little rhyme, and when I need a nap I climb, into my bed for turtle time, turtle time.
Retold by Tololwa M. Mollel
Illustrated by Barbara Spurll
Tololwa M. Mollel, a Maasai from Arusha, Tanzania, retells this Nigerian myth of how the tortoise got his shell. Barbara Spurll’s vibrantly colored illustrations are full of emotion and character.
Mbeku was a vain and selfish tortoise. He was extremely proud of his smooth and shiny shell. Because he was so magnificent, he believed he deserved more food than any other creature in the forest. Mbeku had an insatiable appetite and was always eager to eat.
One day he came upon a group of birds celebrating; the king of Skyland had invited the Earth-dwellers to a feast! Mbeku yearned to attend even though he did not have the means to travel to Skyland. He convinced each of the birds to give him a feather so that his (only) friend Ngwele could fashion a set of wings so that he could fly.
When the birds and Mbeku arrived in Skyland, Mbeku tricked the birds and consumed the entire feast himself. The angry birds pounced on the trickster and tore apart his wings. Now he had no way of getting home! Mbeku put on a great show of apologizing and pleading for forgiveness until the birds eventually took pity on him.
Mbeku decided he would have to jump from Skyland and tells the birds to ask Ngwele to build a giant soft pile so he could land softly. The birds agreed and flew back to Earth. But one small swallow, still in a nearby bush, overheard Mbeku mocking the silly birds for trusting him yet again. The swallow immediately flew off to tell the others. Tired of playing the fools, the birds decided to teach the deceiving tortoise a lesson—instead of a soft pile, they ask Ngwele to build a pile of the hardest things she can find.
Mbeku, unaware that his duplicitous behavior has been discovered, sees the readied pile from Skyland and jumps down to earth. Upon landing, his shell scattered in a million pieces. Ngwele gathered up every single piece and worked all through the rainy season patching Mbeku’s shell. The new patchwork shield looks just like the shell we know turtles to carry today. It’s not nearly beautiful enough for the ungrateful reptile.
Despite not wanting to be seen in his hideous shell, the tortoise went out for a walk. When he heard birds nearby, he “drew himself into his checkered shell and lay as still as a stone.” The birds, unaware that their old nemesis is nearby, chattered and laughed about having finally outsmarted Mbeku. They laughed so hard that they didn’t even notice the large rock that they were resting on was chuckling too.