Schwulst’s picture book portrays an African folktale about the tortoise and his shell.
Thomas the tortoise, soft and wrinkled in body, searches for shelter on a “cold, dark and stormy night.” Finding none, he seeks warmth and a nap in the morning on a rock warmed by the sun. Monkeys wake him by chattering about the lion king’s malady, from which he will surely die. Skeptical, Thomas sets out to see for himself. At the king’s camp, Thomas finds Victor the Vulture. Victor confirms the king’s grave illness and says the only cure is for the lion to consume a pile of nuts, but no one can crack them open. Edward the Elephant could do it, but he stubbornly refuses. Kindhearted Thomas gets an idea and waddles off to bring Edward to the camp. As he goes, the monkeys laugh at the idea that a “small squishy tortoise” like Thomas could make Edward do anything. Thomas says that if he does bring Edward back, they all must kneel and must call him, Thomas, king. The monkeys laugh at this joke but say they will do as Thomas asks. Thomas finds Wilma Warthog, who agrees to dig a hole, deep and wide, and fill it with the nuts. Thomas finds Edward and tells him all the animals want him to be king and that they’ve invited him to a feast. Edward immediately booms agreement and scoops Thomas up on his back for the trek to the king’s camp. The monkeys greet them, kneel and yell, “All hail the King.” Edward sticks out his chest, boasting and strutting, until he falls into the hole, where he stomps and stomps until all the nuts are crushed and made into a stew. The stew heals the king, and Thomas wins his protective shell. The story and characters are delightful, but the illustrations are dark and out of harmony with the optimism of Thomas’ tale. Rhyme and rhythm are used erratically, which makes for awkward reading. Confusing punctuation errors appear throughout the text.
An inconsistent but imaginative, clever tale in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.