Cynthia Reyes’ children’s book, Myrtle the Purple Turtle, is a beautiful story. How she symbolized her daughter’s childhood experience of shame of being different is beautiful. Her resolution of the callousness of bullies is beautiful. And, Jo Robinson’s illustrations of Myrtle’s pond-world are beautiful. I did say, beautiful!
This is Ms. Reyes’ debut in children’s literature, aimed at the elementary age child. This is an age at which our similarities and differences are most vulnerable. At t his age we become aware that some people see us as inferior because of some observable attribute which we usually have little ability to change.
With self-consciousness aroused, we want only to be something that we can never be. We want to conform to some obvious image of what we believe others wants friends to be. But, our efforts to be taller, or stronger, or prettier, or faster only evidence our awkward insecurities.
Myrtle is a purple turtle. Need I say that in due time some other turtle will ridicule her. Myrtle’s efforts to look more like what she believes other turtles want her to be do not improve on her purple-ness. Her friends, who also have their different shades of turtle-ness, reassure Myrtle that being purple is okay with them.
Children’s books for this age bridge the toddler-years picture books and the tween-years short story-novella tomes. Ms. Reyes gives just enough prose-poetry text for young reads to learn the beauty of words. Ms. Robinson complements the story with illustration, which parents can use to tell the story until the younger readers have developed their vocabulary. For children who are struggling with how to live with bullying peers, parents, teachers, and mentors can use Myrtle the Purple Turtle to give a story to this universal life experience.
Ms. Reyes sent me a digital version of her book upon the publication of her book. She requested that I give it a look and critique. I have been formulating a response, while waiting for my TWO copies to arrive from that internet-site-that’s-got-it-all-to-arrive via the big, brown, bread truck (which also deliver’s bog biscuits to our overly friendly guards). My copies arrived the other day. I have two toddlers waiting to grow a bit more before receiving a future birthday gift.
Obviously, I enjoyed my read of Myrtle the Purple Turtle (see the above Beautifuls). Yet, I see an additional story awaiting the telling. At the end of the story, I wondered, “What happened to the bully turtle?” She has no name and does not appear again after her pages early in the text.
If being called names and insults exposes our secret shame of our differences, is the bully really better than we are? From my adult experience, I would say that the bully points out other children’s difference as a means of hiding her own. Some bullies grow up to be adult bullies, forever hiding their insecurities behind college degrees, business success, bigger houses and cars, more luxurious meals and entertainment, etc. But, some do come to a realization that they need not be ashamed of what they fear will be recognized by the rest of us. We already know this about them.
I see another story for Ms. Reyes to draw from the muses. And, by wonderful circumstance, I took a cross-country flight (FLY SOUTHWEST), during which I am drafting this review. When I fly I never bother reading the in-flight magazine (FLY SOUTHWEST), as I have a back-pack full of words to amuse me. But, this time I pulled out the in-flight magazine (FLY SOUTHWEST), and there on the cover was the lead article on what became of a childhood bully. Rationalizing my theft as research for the greater good, I stole the in-flight magazine (I will at least give some free publicity to Southwest Airline) to send to Ms. Reyes for consideration.
May the creative spirit warm up the pen and brush. Myrtle’s nameless bully may live to gain a name and understanding of her turtle-ness.