The Town of Turtle by Michelle Cuevas and Cátia Chien

Sometimes you read a picture book with a message that stays with you long after you have closed the covers. Sometimes you read a picture book that is so charming, you find yourself smiling when you think about it long after you have closed the covers. And sometimes you read a picture book that is a little bit of both. That's what The Town of Turtle written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Cátia Chien is for me. And, like any work of creative expression, it won't be this kind of book for everyone, and, as with all children's books, it will mean something different for young listener/readers than it does for adults. I hope that this enchanting dream of a book is one that many will have the pleasure of encountering.

The first page of The Town of Turtle reminds me of The Little Prince, with a lone figure perched on top of a lonely planet. Cuevas begins her story, "Turtle lived in apart of the world as empty as a bird's nest in December." Poetic sentences like this are woven throughout the story, and if they don't cause you to pause in your reading, be sure to read this book again which, you will probably end up doing anyway.

Turtle tries talking to his shadow, but his shadow does not answer back. Turtle spends a lot of time inside his shell where it is as, "dark as the inside of a closed flower, as dark as the underside of a bell." And in the dark, Turtle dreams about making a better home for himself. His improvements begin with a new coat of paint to his shell and quickly grow to include a "very small deck," which looks so delightful he imagines that, if he had neighbors, he would invite them over for a picnic, along with many other additions to his shell home.
Turtle goes on to build houses, just in case others want to share in enjoying the improvements he has made to his shell, and then a library, a school and a skating rink - for a start - because, "houses aren't much fun without other places nearby." Please with the new shape of his shadow, Turtle settles in for a much needed rest, dreaming that he has friends who live in the town he had built.

Chien's illustrations are perfectly paired with the poetic text. They are colorful and blocky, at times childlike, other times dreamlike. A turtle, out of his shell, might be disturbing, but Chien's shell-less turtle is practical and earnest in appearance. As creatures of all sorts with talents of all kinds (a topiarist, a hot-air balloonist, a tightrope-riding unicyclist), beckoned by Turtle's wandering dream, make their home on his renovated shell, they bring their own personalities, their own cultures, if you will, to their new home. A magnificent two page spread shows the immigrant animals sharing a diverse meal (although the cat seems to be eating a sandwich with something that looks suspiciously like a tail sticking out of it) with dishes readers will recognize. A gatefold near the end of The Town of Turtle employees three pages that show Turtle and the marvelous world that he created on top of his shell, made even more marvelous by the contributions of the new inhabitants. The final page shows Turtle again, from a distance, perched on his planet, bathed in blue shadows. The outline of his new town, enhanced by the new inhabitants, standing out amongst the stars.

Source: Review Copy

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