the turtle king

And I would tell you how awesome the book is and how it has something for everyone from a princess to a cop to a superhero turtle who uses magic powers to get the princess out of jail and how when Luau looked at the book this morning, he said, “Hmm, it seems to be lacking a single thread,” and I smiled and said, “Actually, the thread connecting it all is inclusion,” and how I went on to explain that she had created the character list before writing the book and had, despite the vast diversity of the cast, managed to get each and every one of them into the book in some meaningful way. Yes, that’s definitely what I’d tell you.

– From yesterday’s post, What I Would Tell You

Although I’ve always told both of the girls that if they ever want to post anything here on Diary they are welcome to do so, I’ve become a bit more vocal about it in recent weeks. It’s so important to me that they BOTH know that the moment that either of them tell me to get the heck off the soapbox and hand them the mic, it’s theirs.

Yesterday, Brooke, as only she can, decided to take me up on the offer.

Late in the afternoon, I found her down in the basement, sitting in the middle of a cacophony of color. She had spread her magic markers onto the floor around, under and over her and, in the center of it all, was squatting down to write. On a poster-sized sheet of paper, she’d made a list. Atop the page, it said, “Turtle King Play Party.” Beneath the title were ten roles, each matched with the name of a girl she knows.

“Remember when I had my play party?” she asked.

I told her that I did.

“Did you like my play party” she asked.

I told her, as I do every couple of days when she asks exactly that question, that it had been wonderful.

“I will have another one with these friends,” she said, pointing to the list.

“Wow,” I said, “that’s, um, a lot of parts. Perhaps we could do it like we did last time, kiddo, and invite three or four friends, okay?”

“NO!” she said emphatically, “It won’t be overwhelming. We need these friends.”

Maybe not overwhelming for you, I thought, both laughing at myself and reveling in the brilliance of her words. “It won’t be overwhelming.” How bout them apples?

I told her I’d think about it.

She ran upstairs to get a blank book. “I’m going to make the story of the play,” she said.

For the next two hours, I sat on the floor with my girl as she created the magic that you’re about to see. I had the rare and precious privilege of watching it come to life – of asking questions and seeing her process step by beautiful step. I was rapt.

It’s called, “The Turtle King,” she said, “he’s a turtle. And a king.”

She drew a green circle, which became the turtle’s head. She found another green marker for his body, as apparently, despite the fact that they looked identical to my untrained eye, the first green was head color and the second was body color, then a brown one for his shell. The crown came next. “He’s very royal,” she said as she drew his golden crown. I was fascinated watching her work. “And a cape,” she said. “For being super.” She drew the cape in red, then added the turtle’s arms, face, and, finally, his legs.


{image is the cover of the book, as described above.}

“Are you going to put this on the blog?” she asked.

“Only if you want me to,” I said.

She answered in a sing-song. “Maybe, maybe a little.” Although that’s been  her latest version of yes, I wanted to check and make sure because, well, language is language and spoken words are not always reliable nor meant to be taken at face value in our world. “Are you making the book to go on the blog for everyone to read?” I asked.

“I am,” she said.

I told her that in that case, I couldn’t wait to share it. There might have been a time that I’d have told her that wasn’t what I’d meant by “writing a post.” Thank God those days are long past.

What’s going to happen in the story?” I asked.

“You’ll see!” she said.

I smiled. “Who’s playing the turtle king?” I asked.

She pointed to the list. “Becky is the turtle king,” she said.

I sat back and grinned as she turned to the first blank page and began to draw.


{Image is the turtle king and a pink and purple butterfly. The text reads, “The turtle king asked the butterfly to play with him. The butterfly gave him a yes.” }

“There’s a problem!” she said.

I asked what it was, wondering if WE had a problem or if there was a problem in the book.

“You’ll see!” she said.

Fair enough.

She drew what looked like a hangman structure, then added a cloud of green above it. I asked her what it was.

“A tree,” she said. “You’ll see.”

I chuckled. The message was clear. Mama is always too eager to know. What’s going to happen? What will the future bring? How will we handle it? What will we do?

“Wait, Mama,” my girl was telling me. “Life always unfolds as it should, when it will. Wait. You’ll see.”

Indeed, my little love. Indeed.

She drew a bunny in a basket, hanging from the single limb of the tree. Standing nearby were the turtle king and the butterfly. “He’s holding his magic stick now,” Brooke said of the turtle king.


{image as described above. Text reads, “Then they heard crying. It was a baby rabbit.”}

She turned the page and drew two pink rabbits, hugging each other, one big and one small.


{image as described above. Text reads, “The mama rabbit found her baby and gave her a hug.”}

“Now there’s the princess,” Brooke said.

The narration. Good lord, the narration. I sat in awe.

She began with the head, then added the hair with a giggle. “Her hair is GREEN,” she said, laughing.

“It looks like seaweed!” I said.

She laughed harder.

“What color are you going to make her princess gown?” I asked.

“You’ll see!” she said.

What can I say? I’m not always the quickest study.


{image is a photo of the princess with her green hair, red necklace (“because red is a kind of pink”) and very pink gown standing next to a very tall person in red pants, a blue shirt, and a long, red pony tail. When I asked if the second person was the princess’s mom, I was informed that she was the shopkeeper. She added text reading, “They all went shopping. The princess started to talk to a stranger.”}

“Should you talk to strangers?” Brooke asked as she turned the page and reached for the yellow marker.

“Hmm,” I said, “well, not usually, but .. “

“You get in trouble if you talk to strangers,” she said.

Okay. Sure.

We’ll keep working on that one, but for now I’d prefer to err on the side of don’t than do.

Brooke drew the princess on a fresh page, then threw the poor girl in jail.

“You go to jail when you do bad things,” she said.

Yeah, so maybe we need to work on it sooner than later.

“The police is there,” she said, “Do you tell a police when you do something bad?”

“Well,” I said, “the police will be able to help you.”

“And you go to jail,” she said.

“Well, kiddo, I, um, I don’t think you’d go to jail for talking to a stranger.”

“I’m going to draw the police now,” she said.

I knew better than to think she wasn’t hearing me. She’ll process the words when she’s ready.


{image is a photo of the princess behind bars. A police officer of indeterminate gender is standing outside the jail grimacing and saying, “That was not ok.” Text below reads, “The police came to arrest the princess. The princess was in jail.”}

On the next page, the police officer was gone, but the princess remained in jail. The turtle king had shown up with his magic stick.


{image as described above. Text reads, “The turtle king asked the princess what she wishes for from him.” The princess is saying, “Get me out of here!” while the turtle king is asking, “What do you wish for from me?”}

On the next page, the princess stood alone. Brooke drew blue dots in the air above her head. “That’s the turtle’s stick magic,” she said.

She was volunteering information. Sharing what she was thinking as she drew.

The words swirled around me like the magic from the turtle king’s stick.

Precious, rare, grateful. 

The princess was free.


{image as described above. Text reads, “Down calmed the princess. The princess got outta jail.”}

“Is she out of jail because she’s calm?” I asked.

Brooke said nothing, so I tried a different tack.

“Was the jail real or did she feel like she was in jail because she was upset?”

“Real,” she said. “The turtle magic got her out.”

Sometimes a jail is just a jail, Dr. Freud.

“Is the princess the turtle king’s daughter?” I asked.

She furrowed her brow, her eyebrows knitting together in the middle. “He’s a turtle,” she said.


Clearly with no desire to continue having to explain to her mother why turtles can’t give birth to humans, she said, “The cat will have some milk.”

She drew a pink cat with a VERY long tongue sipping milk out of a bowl. She looked at her work then said, “The dog will too.” She added a green puppy with an equally long tongue in the milk bowl. She then wrote, “The cat drunk some milk. So did the dog,” and then collapsed into a fit of giggles. “Is it the cat DRUNK the milk?” she asked. She finds the word “drunk” hilarious.

“No, ya silly,” I said. “It’s the cat drank some milk.”

“Not drunk some milk,” she said, now laughing almost too hard to breathe.


{image is the cat and dog drinking milk together, as described above.}

She turned the page and declared that the painter needed to get fruits. I asked if he was going to paint the fruit or eat it. She told me that the fruits were for eating. She generously refrained from adding, “Duh.”


{image is the painter (wearing a beret and holding a paintbrush in one hand and a palette in the other, lest you not recognize him) and a the fruit seller, who is holding a bag of fruit. I told her that I thought they looked a little like JoJo the clown. She agreed.}

At this point I had to run upstairs. When I returned, an elephant was singing.


{image is an elephant holding sheet music and singing while a blue bird in a yellow nest says, “Good job.” Text reads, “The elephant sang a song to his friends.”}

Then bowing.


{image is the elephant bowing and saying, “Thank you!” Text reads, “Everyone clapped and the elephant took a bow.”}

After the elephant’s performance, it was time to go home.


{image is a duck saying, “Let’s go home.” Text reads, “The duck went home. Everyone went home.”}

On the next page, Brooke drew a series of black lines all running into one another in the middle. It looked like a spider, or a Rorschach test. “See the hands in?” she said, pointing to the black blob. “These are the hands in.”

One of Brooke’s favorite things to do is a team cheer. She does them everywhere, from school to movement class to every single night at dinner right after we say Grace as a family. Upon closer inspection, the blob came to life with hands and arms and connection. Above it, the turtle king flew in his cape, his magic stick over his head leading the way.


{image as described above. Text reads, “The turtle king used power. Everyone puts their hands in and said, “Gooooo turtle king.”}

Next, it was time for the duck to hit the proverbial hay.


{image is the cat hanging out by the duck’s bed. Text reads, “The cat sang a lullaby to the duck.”}

The cat’s lullaby clearly did its job.


{image is the duck asleep in bed emitting a long series of Zzzzzzz’s. Text reads, “The duck went to sleep with her teddy bear.}

Another of Brooke’s recent sources of endless amusement is to tell me to “be someone who doesn’t like the Doodlebops,” and then to blast a Doodlebobs song from her iPad so that I can “get mad and say, “Yuck, I HATE the Doodlebops.” I have to admit, it doesn’t take Meryl Streep to pull that one off. No offense, Doodlebops, but seriously. No.

All of that said, of course she had to draw the Doodlebops. And we had to do the script. And it was just as funny as always.


{image is the Doodlebops on a television. Text reads, “They all watched the doodlebops.”}

And then it was time for everyone to go. Represented by the baby bunny and her mama, they all lived happily ever after.


{image is the mama bunny hugging her baby. Text reads, “They lived happily ever after.”}


The end.

15 thoughts on “the turtle king

  1. This is SOOO amazing! I love it. So creative, and actually makes so much sense. I can just imagine the laughing, just like my girl does at her Sooty DVDs… I must go and check out the doodlebops, don’t think they’ve hit the UK yet!! I laughed out loud at the idea of a turtle giving birth to a baby – silly you, mummy 😉

  2. What a beautiful story! I love her amazing artwork! She really is talented! I cherish your stories with your sweet sweet girls. It helps me remember to cherish mine as well (all 5 of them!) Thank you for sharing. You do it well.

  3. Wow. This is nothing short of amazing. I want to scream your quote “no imagination my arse” from the rooftops and add “no empathy my arse” and scream that from the rooftops too. Jess, I truly believe your philosophy of “every child on his own time” is what has allowed Brooke to be beautifully who she is, and look what’s coming out of her now.

    Its just so beautiful. I love it so much!

    “Gooooo turtle”.

  4. Dear Brooke,
    I love your book! I’m so glad I got to see it. My favorite part is how you wrote “drunk” because it makes you laugh. I sometimes like to say “salmon” with the “l” pronounced (“sal-mon”) because it makes me laugh. I wish my students could see your book. I know they would love it. I hope you share more of your books!


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