I spent a recent morning with dozens of young people at Courtice North Public School in Ontario.
Their teachers had included Myrtle the Purple Turtle in their recent studies. Principal Peter Bischoff invited me to visit.
I was nervous!
Writing for your readers is one thing. Hearing them talk about your book — and answering their questions — is quite another.
And though I’d won awards and acclaim for my children’s TV programs in earlier years, it’s been a long time since I visited a classroom.
The first thing I noticed was that Mrs. Murphy, the teacher who introduced me, treated the students with great respect, addressing them as “Ladies and gentlemen”.
When you are nine or ten years old and are addressed as “Ladies and gentlemen”, what do you do? You live up to it, of course.
Wow. What a smart, polite and thoughtful group. Their observations about the book’s key messages about difference, the role of friends, and accepting oneself and others, were sharp and eloquent.
We talked together about why “the mean turtle” behaved so badly toward Myrtle and whether that turtle might have herself been bullied and considered it normal to be mean.
That led us to talk about a sequel.
“We followed Myrtle through her day and saw what happened before she met the other turtle,” one astute young woman noted.
“But we didn’t follow the other turtle before she and Myrtle met. Maybe the sequel could tell us more about what happened before to make her so mean.”
“But the story is about Myrtle the Purple Turtle, so if you (focus on) the other turtle, you’d have to change the title of that book to ‘The Mean Green Turtle'”, a young man observed.
As you can imagine, the discussion was intensive and fabulous. Mrs. Murphy had asked me to talk a bit about the writing process. Discussing the characters and story development for the sequel was one practical way of doing so.
My great thanks to each and all of the students.
To principal Peter Bischoff, and the teachers of Grades 4, 5 and 6 — Mrs. Fedewicz, Mrs. Posteraro, Mrs. Durst and Mrs. Murphy:
Thank you for using my book as a learning tool and thanks for your warm welcome. You made my week!
I never know how much to tell you about the journey that Myrtle is on! (Are you bored yet?)
But many of you have hung in with me through the rough times, so I figure you are more than overdue for good news. And right now, some of my ‘goodest’ news is about Myrtle.
When Paula de Ronde wrote about Myrtle on Facebook recently, I was delighted.
“Yesterday I read Myrtle the Purple Turtle with three of my ‘honorary’ grandchildren. Myrtle got three thumbs up, some giggles and big smiles.
“Cynthia Reyes has written a book for parents and friends who love to read and love to read to children.
“We had quite a talk about it and it is a hit. Zoe, who is only 2, sat through the whole thing and wanted me to go back to certain of the very colourful pages. She was the illustrations critic and by her response they certainly did what they are supposed to do – engage through colour.
“Dylan Damien (8) and Charlie (6)… talked about ‘friends’ and that ‘it’s OK to be different.’
“I have told many friends about how much I like this book. However, these are the best critics as the story is for them. I bet this becomes a go-to, cuddle-up book on those long Winter nights.”
Stefan Steen took the photo above of his wife Stephanie, their 3 children and Paula.
Paula and Stefan go way back to his childhood, when he and her son Damien were close friends. Sadly, Damien died young, but Stefan remained close to Paula and her husband Bert.
Stefan and Stephanie named their first child for Damien. Damien was known for giving the greatest hugs, and Paula says she is delighted that the kids have learned to give her “Damien hugs” too.
They are the grandchildren of her heart, she says.
Today, Paula and Bert are close to all three children, who call them “Oma”, and “Opa” (Dutch for “grandma” and “grandpa”).
A retired librarian and cultural connoisseur, Paula has an eye for great stories. She was the first person outside our family to read the draft of Myrtle, and therefore was its first reviewer.
She said this about Myrtle:
“It is a long time since I have been so effusive about a children’s book. Now we have something other than The Ugly Duckling, et al, for this age group with a nice dollop of ‘how to’ for adults facing this dilemma too.
“Children will love, relate and respond favourably to the humour and that light, underlying silliness that is their everyday language. I was smiling as I read some of the lines, descriptions and Myrtle’s thoughts.
“There are many teaching moments and issues in this book and you present them in such a warm and lovable way. It is simple but not simplistic, ethical, tackling issues that we so need to tackle today but without being pedantic.”
I respect Paula a lot, so you can imagine how much her critique encouraged not just me, but our whole family. And now, we’re glad to know that she has read it to her ‘grandchildren’ too.
Thank you, Paula, Stefan and Stephanie — and special thanks to our young critics!