Review of Rodney Was a Tortoise

Rodney Was a Tortoise Rodney Was a Tortoise
by Nan Forler; illus. by Yong Ling Kang
Primary    Tundra    40 pp.  g
2/22    978-0-73526-662-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-73526-663-6    $10.99

Bernadette loves her pet tortoise, Rodney. “Day after day, / year after year, / Rodney was there, / loyal and true.” In Rodney, Bernadette sees a willing playmate, always up for a game of Go Fish (she “took Rodney’s turns for him”) or a staring contest (“Rodney always won”). It might take him all day to look up or to eat a lettuce leaf, but his quiet, steady presence is a comfort to Bernadette. Line breaks in Forler’s (Trampoline Boy, rev. 5/18) warm text slow the pace and focus on moments in time. Kang’s gentle watercolor and pencil illustrations touchingly depict this special relationship, making the inevitable all the more heartbreaking. When the day comes that “sleepy old Rodney” stops moving, the illustrations turn somber and emphasize Bernadette’s loneliness and grief. Almost as painful as the loss, however, is the realization that for everyone else, life goes on. “The other kids ran and whirled past her / as though Rodney had never existed.” The illustrations deftly echo details in the text to reinforce the child’s sense of isolation. “Bernadette put on her protective shell, / and lumbered to school” has her in an olive-green hoodie (hood up), sitting “quiet and still,” tortoise-like, on a rock. One empathetic classmate, who notices and validates her emotions (“You must be very sad about Rodney”), brings Bernadette out of her shell and sets her on the path to healing. This tender story about losing a friend and making room for a new one ends on a realistically hopeful note.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Kitty Flynn
Kitty Flynn is consulting editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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