Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we slice up the topics oozing into the public consciousness and recommend a few rocksteady book choices that will have you shelling out your hard-earned dollars.
Yesterday, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opened in theatres across North America. With involvement from Seth Rogen and a stacked (and eclectic) voice cast that includes Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Ayo Edebiri (from The Bear), Post Malone, Natasia Demetriou (from What We Do in the Shadows), and so many more, the movie had us wistfully remembering the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of our youth, whether that be the indie comic book, the animated show, the concert tour (with an appearance on Oprah), or more. Forget Shredder – these Turtle Boys don’t cut their PR team any slack!
The movie also made us think of all the turtles in children’s literature – sure, they may not all be mutant or ninjas or even enjoy pizza that much. But they are turtles deserving of our attention, so please enjoy a recommended reading list of books about turtles for every age! (We’re including tortoises, too. We know they’re not the same, but … come on.)
Like the Ninja Turtles, Rodney in Rodney Was a Tortoise by Nan Forler and Yong Ling Kang starts off as a child’s pet (in this case, Bernadette’s). But unlike the Ninja Turtles, Rodney does not become a mutant crime-fighter, and instead dies. When Rodney passes, no one seems to understand, and only the kindness and empathy of a friend Amar helps her manage her grief in this comforting and gently humorous picture book about bereavement.
Based on a true story (can TMNT say that?), Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius by Lynne Cox and Richard Jones chronicles the life of a remarkable sea turtle who accomplished a feat second only to mastering the nunchuks: she swam farther than any other animal in recorded history – 23,000 miles! – to return to the beach where she first hatched, to lay her own eggs.
The Turtles are radical dudes, which may be why the turtle in Shannon McNeill’s Wheels, No Wheels swipes a skateboard when given the chance (joining a llama on a tractor and cat on a bike) and goes on a joyride in a very funny book about things that roll and things that do not.
Nearly as unlikely as a turtle on a skateboard is Turtle in a Tree by Neesha Hudson. Perhaps that’s why a bulldog insists it’s not a turtle in a tree, even though a greyhound swears it is. The ensuing argument – as controversial as which of the four ninja teens is best – teaches a lesson about differing perspectives.
We know the Ninja Turtles are “heroes in a half-shell,” but what if they had no shell at all? Enter The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder, in which a turtle born without a shell searches for some protection and settles on a sturdy cardboard box. But when another turtle points out that Terrance’s shell is a little unusual, Terrance questions his box until he finds the confidence to be who he is.
Fastest Tortoise in Town by Howard Calvert and Karen Obuhanych is a new take on the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable, and this time the tortoise (Barbara Hendricks) worries about the road race she entered on a whim. But Barbara’s friend and owner, Lorraine, inspires her to train a little bit more each day. Barbara soon realizes that by trying her best, she’s already won. (Unfortunately for the Ninja Turtles, Shredder isn’t defeated by effort alone.)
The Ninja Turtles are bandana-forward when it comes to fashions, but the turtles in Jon Klassen’s modern classic We Found a Hat are all about the chapeaus. In a three-act story, two turtles find a hat. The hat looks good on both of them, causing potential strife in this most turtle-centric of Klassen’s Hat Trilogy.
And we can’t discuss picture books and turtles without mentioning the grandaddy of them all: Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss himself. Though the book contains three stories (only one of them featuring a turtle), the titular story features a tyrannical turtle (not at all like Leonardo) who gets his comeuppance via a burp.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
When it comes to chapter books and middle-grade novels, turtles are either literal turtles … or something more metaphorical. In The Magic Tree House: Time of the Turtle King by Mary Pope Osborne and AG Ford, you best believe they are literal turtles. Jack and Annie are whisked away in the magic tree house to the Galapagos Islands (a.k.a. Turtle Central), where they have to save a giant tortoise from an erupting volcano. (Don’t see too many of those in the New York sewers.)
Likewise, in The Boxcar Children: The Sea Turtle Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner and illustrated by Anthony VanArsdale, plucky orphans the Aldens spend spring break on a beach, trying to protect an endangered turtle species. But someone is digging up turtle eggs from their nests, so it’s up to the Boxcar Children to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Not to be outdone by Dr. Seuss and Jon Klassen, Roald Dahl also has a turtle book: Esio Trot. This Dahl deep cut is about a man (Mr. Hoppy) in love with his neighbor (Mrs Silver), who loves her tortoise, Alfie. One day, Mrs Silver asks Mr Hoppy how to make Alfie grow, so Mr Hoppy uses a magical spell and some cabbage leaves (as one does) as a sort of homemade radioactive ooze. (Fun fact: the title is an anagram of an animal. Guess which one!)
The sea turtles need saving again in Turtles of the Midnight Moon by María José Fitzgerald. Two girls – one from the coast of Honduras, the other from the bowels of New Jersey – become friends when they join forces (Ninja Turtle-style) to break up a turtle egg poaching ring. Soon, visiting Abby and local Barana are consumed by the mystery, chasing down suspects, gathering clues, and staking out the beach in the dead of night.
The ‘Turtle’ in Jennifer L. Holm’s Turtle in Paradise (now a graphic novel adapted by Savanna Ganucheau) is an eleven-year-old (not quite teenage) girl, who is shipped off to Florida to live with relatives during the Great Depression when her mother gets a housekeeping job that forbids kids. Surrounded by cousins and able to get into all sorts of adventures in the tropical heat, Turtle soon finds herself coming out of her proverbial shell.
Evan M. Wolkenstein’s Turtle Boy is about a boy, Will Levine, given said nickname as a taunt by classmates about his odd-looking chin. Will actually loves turtles, but it doesn’t lessen the pain of the insult. When his Rabbi requests Will spend time with a RJ, a boy in hospital with a terminal illness, Will is determined to rack up the hours for his bar mitzvah community service and get out as quickly as possible. But Will discovers RJ has a bucket list, and begins to help him check off the items, despite his personal discomfort in coming out of his shell. Prepare for a novel that features more tears than ninja stars.
Shockingly few YA novels are all about our terrapin friends, but John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down is a glaring exception. Rather than featuring turtles in any real way (though it does feature a pet tuatara), the book is a serious look at living with mental illness (in this case OCD and anxiety) as it follows Aza Holmes, caught up with her best friend Daisy in the mysterious disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett. They make contact with Pickett’s son Davis, but Aza is distracted from their task by her own circular and obsessive thoughts.
Cowabunga, friends! Be sure to check out these books that hit you like a bo staff to the face!