About the Holiday
Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, who founded American Tortoise Rescue in 1990, established World Turtle Day to raise awareness and respect for turtles and tortoises and to promote conservation to help them survive. Celebrations take many forms, from fun activities where participants dress as turtles to educational programs that teach about this fascinating creature and how people can help turtles in danger. To learn more about World Turtle Day and American Tortoise Rescue – and to meet some of their adorable residents – visit worldturtleday.org.
Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends
Written by Mike Reiss | Illustrated by Ashley Spires
Upon beginning the story, children learn that “far, far away” two eggs shared the same pen at a zoo. Eventually, the eggs hatched: first a turtle and then a tortoise. The two babies took to each other right away, excited about all the fun they would have together. “People will call us the terrible Turtle Twins!” the little turtle says. But the tortoise is not receptive to this idea and launches into a mirror-image description about the differences between a turtle, a “horrid beast” and a tortoise who is a “handsome creature.” Following this, they go their separate ways to separate parts of the pen.
Soon, the zookeeper, leading a school field trip, stops by and during his spiel reveals that turtles and tortoises can live 100 years. The little turtle and tortoise are surprised and impressed by this information, but they go on with their individual lives – for 14 years. The turtle finds – and eats – a worm that “looked just like Winston Churchill.” The tortoise was picked up by one eagle and returned by another. They endured nature’s worst weather and saw old years go and new years come. They could have commiserated and celebrated together, but they didn’t.
Then one day, a red ball came bouncing into their pen. Both the turtle and the tortoise rushed to catch it. “The turtle got there first…seven years later.” Once he had it, he wasn’t sure what it was or what to do with it. At last, he climbed on top of it and felt like “the king of the zoo” until he rolled off and landed on his back. Seeing an opportunity, the tortoise hurried over. Two years later he reached the ball. Passing the struggling turtle, he gave a snide laugh and claimed it for himself, with predictable results.
Both the turtle and the tortoise spent the days and months and years on their backs, staring up at the sky and at each other. Time passed – a lot of time. Eventually, a new zookeeper guiding a new group of children related some new information that changed the whole Turtle-Tortoise dynamic. The tortoise suddenly had an idea on how they might regain their footing, and not so suddenly the turtle agreed to try it. Managing it took some time – a lot of time – but they finally found themselves face-to-face again, and, with a different attitude and appreciation for their new “fast” friendship, they wandered off to enjoy some lettuce leaves together.
Funny, thought-provoking, purposeful, and poignant, Mike Reiss’s story is at once an entertaining tale of two stubborn creatures wasting decades of a could-be friendship and a gentle prompting to really look at the senseless prejudice, lack of communication, and missed opportunities that keep our human race divided. A careful reading of the tortoise’s comparison of a turtle and a tortoise provides a humorous yet serious jumping off point for discussions about prejudice as well as the effect of not questioning such pronouncements. Reiss even cleverly inserts a nod to scientific advancements and other societal changes that if embraced can lead to better understanding, friendship, and community. His early introduction of a turtle’s life span likewise frames the story in human terms. As the years pass by in the blink of an eye (or three or four words), Reiss encourages readers to count up how many years it takes the tortoise and turtle to become friends and ponder how that might relate to their own lives.
How far, far away is this unnamed zoo? Taking a good look at Ashley Spire’s ingenious cityscape, kids will discover that, no matter where they live, it is closer than they might think. Spires goes on to make the turtle and the tortoise distinct individuals but with many similarities, an idea that adults may want to explore with children while reading the book together. The turtle and the tortoise are adorable, and kids will be rooting for them to put aside their misconceptions and become friends. The passage of time is charmingly represented by the clothing and demeanor of the two groups of children that visit the zoo.
Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends is an enchanting and multilayered story that kids will want to hear again and again for its humor and thoughtful treatment of friendship.
Ages 4 – 8
HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0060740313
You can connect with Mike Reiss on Twitter.
To learn more about Ashley Spires, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Turtle Day Activity
Follow the Turtles! Game
You can make this fun game from recycled materials and a little creativity! When you’re finished making the turtle shells, have fun guessing where the marble, bead or bean is hiding!
- Cardboard egg carton
- Green tissue paper in different hues
- Green construction or craft paper
- A marble, bead, or bean
- Cut the egg carton apart into individual cups. You will need 3 cups for each game made.
- Cut the rims of the cups so they sit flat on a table.
- If the cups have open sides, fit two cups inside one another to fill the gaps
- Cut the tissue paper into small shapes
- Brush glue on a cup (I used a paper towel to apply glue)
- Cover the egg cup with pieces of tissue paper. Repeat with other cups.
- Let dry
- Cut a head and feet from the green craft paper
- Tape or glue the edges of head and feet to the inside of the cups
- Add a face to the head
To play the game:
- Line up the cups on a table
- Put a bead, bean, or marble under one of the cups
- Show the other player which cup the object is under
- Quickly move the cups around each other several times
- Ask the other player which cup they think the object is under
- Take turns playing
Extra Game: Make three more and play turtle tic-tac-toe!
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