Wood, Douglas. Old Turtle / text by Douglas Wood; watercolors by Cheng-Khee Chee. Duluth, MN: Pfeifer-Hamilton, 1992.
Douglas Wood won the 1993 "ABBY" for book of the year from the American Booksellers Association and also achieved a Children’s Book Award from the International Reading Association in that same year. These awards were garnered by his first book Old Turtle. Wood, of Sartell, Minnesota, is an author, musician, and poet with a great concern for the environment.
As well written as many children’s books are, there is something that must also be said for the illustrator. Old Turtle is a very creative story that gives its illustrator freedom to paint with expression, imagination , and beauty. Cheng-Khee Chee managed to do this very well in Old Turtle. The story makes a wonderful point, but the book is worth much more because of the pictures.
Old Turtle is a very good children’s book for readers of all ages. In the book, every part of creation has its own particular point of view about who God is and what God is like. The differences in opinion spark a debate that soon turns to argument. Old Turtle steps in to mediate and resolves the conflict with wisdom and insight that might only be possible coming from one of earth’s oldest creatures. This sage also reminds creation that people are coming to inhabit the earth as "reminders of all that God is."
The people do come. Soon after their arrival, they forget who they are and why they are on the earth. They neglect their creation in the image of God and thus neglect the earth. All of nature speaks up, repeating the important lesson they learned earlier from Old Turtle. The humans pay attention and change.
Yes, Old Turtle does have an environmental slant, but that does not erase its massage of hope. Wood passes on a story that is important for the Christian to hear on many levels. According to the creation story in Genesis, humans are commissioned to be caretakers of creation, to "till the garden." The story points out how devastating it could be if we were to neglect that assignment. It is environmental and biblical. There is another story here as well. The arguments about who God is and what God is like grow into a very loud argument. It takes a little wisdom to restore order as creation’s debate rages. Nature later testifies to lessons learned, saving creation from destruction. This might serve well as an important lesson for anyone who has their mind made up about who God is. There just might be room in describing God for another’s point of view. Old Turtle’s best wise saying is a very short verse, "God IS."
This book may be a very helpful tool in talking with children about God. For that matter, it may be very helpful in theology with any age group. Before anyone decides they have defined God completely, they might want to read Old Turtle.
March 8, 2002