What a delight to stumble across a reading of Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Teacher Marnie in Idaho. She does a great job of the reading! (I’ve just discovered that some people can access the link and some can’t – not sure why. You may need to click it twice.)
We know there are other teachers who have read this book (and the others in the series) to their classes but this is the first one we’ve actually seen on video!
I’ve been wanting to interview my co-author, Lauren Reyes-Grange.
But how do you do that when she is your daughter, as well as the person who inspired the first Myrtle the Purple Turtle book?
I decided to put on my professional interviewer’s hat — after all, I’d done thousands of interviews in my journalistic work. Here goes:
When did you first realize you loved to tell stories? LRG: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read stories, write stories or tell stories. I am fairly certain I was born with a wild imagination. Pair that with two parents who were superstar journalists (and naturally fantastic storytellers), and I think I was bound to catch the bug, too.
What was it like growing up in a house of storytellers and writers? LRG: It was wonderful. I loved hearing stories about my parents’ work, about their day. My parents also encouraged my sister and me to read, be curious, stand up to injustice, and look for the humour in everyday things which I believe makes for great storytelling.
Do you remember any of the stories you first wrote? LRG: Yes. One of the first stories I wrote was about a bird who, after overcoming some obstacles, learns how to fly.
A story your mother wrote for you when you were nearly five, was published many years later and became an immediate bestseller. What was that like for you? LRG: Pretty emotional in all the best ways possible. Myrtle the Purple Turtle was a lifesaver for me when I was going through a tough time at school. Myrtle’s story made me feel proud, confident and strong. I feel very lucky that 28 years later we were able to share this gift with children who may need a reminder that they should be proud of what makes them different/unique.
You are now the co- author of the Myrtle series, and you are the one who comes up with the new story ideas. Where do your ideas come from? LRG: After visiting numerous schools and speaking with children of all ages, it’s clear that messages of inclusion, kindness and friendship are still very much needed. This is what’s inspired us to continue writing more books and has made the ideation process relatively simple.
How did you react the first time you saw your name on a book cover? LRG: Incredibly proud. I still can’t believe I’m an author. I also feel very fortunate that I get to collaborate with my mum on this. It’s made the entire experience even more meaningful for me.
Why are the messages in the Myrtle books so special to you – and what do you hope children will get from the books? LRG: The messages in Myrtle’s books are how I was raised. I hope the Myrtle series inspires children to act with kindness, to make their peers feel included, to be a good friend and to embrace their own differences.
Your own daughter is due to be born soon. Can we assume you will be reading the Myrtle books to her when she gets old enough? LRG: Absolutely. I’ve already started reading the books to her, but she likely doesn’t know that yet. I hope she falls in love with Myrtle’s message and is as proud of me as I am of my mum.
Parents know how anxious children can be when school begins, and one of a child’s biggest worries is whether they will make friends.
Lauren and I heard this when we toured primary and nursery schools with our Myrtle the Purple Turtle books. When we visit children from 3 to 11 years old, we don’t just read the books to them: we also listen to their experiences.
Some children told us about being left out. No one wanted to play with them, or “be friends”. Some were made fun of, or bullied by others.
Of course, these things can happen at any time, not just in the first weeks of school. We also know that parents are looking out for their children, themselves anxious about how their child is faring each day.
But there is another thing parents (and other adults who care for children) can do:
Encourage or remind your children to be kind to others, and especially to children who seem to have no friends.
Just as they clearly recalled the painful times they were excluded, the 9, 10 and 11 year old children we met had uplifting stories. They had distinct memories of the classmates who noticed they were excluded and reached out to them.
Some remembered being told they couldn’t join in a game, but also happily remembered the time they were included. And they cherished their memories of the classmates who simply asked “Do you want to be friends?”
Out in the community, we’ve even met adults in their 80’s who remember those incidents from early childhood. Some today say they are still marked by those experiences of being excluded or being befriended.
Every child needs to be included and every child can be a friend to another.
The original Myrtle story was written for Lauren, after an incident at her school when she was almost five years old. But if you were to accompany us on a book tour in schools, you would understand why these issues are so present in our thoughts as we write every new book.
We are passionate about Myrtle’s messages of inclusion, kindness and self-esteem because we see the great need for them — and we see it often.