In this nonfiction illustrated children’s book, a trip to a Western state leads to an endearing acquaintance with a reptile.
When Emeigh (Cafeteria Covenant, 2012) traveled to the Mojave Desert in Nevada to see her friend Amelie, she also met the woman’s small, brown tortoise, Buddy. Buddy lived in Amelie’s backyard, and throughout the visit, it entertained the author by munching on broccoli and local plants, taking baths, crawling in and out of its den, and even chomping gently on Emeigh’s foot at one point (“I discovered his mouth was sharp and hard like a bird’s beak. It pinched!”). The young desert tortoise, whose shell displayed “yellow-orange hexagonal shapes,” enjoyed a varied diet. “One thing that Buddy really likes to eat is Aloe,” Emeigh observes, while noticing that the reptile didn’t seem to relish weeds. The tortoise’s gender was still a mystery: “It will take almost five years to determine whether Buddy is male or female. Among other distinctions between the sexes, males have longer tails, and a larger gular horn under their chins.” Although the book is essentially a description of the tortoise and its activities, lyrical writing (“the desert exhaled heat as we made our way to the car in the airport parking garage”) helps to engage the reader in the tale’s sensory details. Additionally, the anthropomorphization of Buddy and the expression of the relationship between the tortoise and the author provide a narrative thread that makes the story cohesive. Because the account is entertaining, it manages to slip in facts without making them seem dull or dry. Before the yarn’s end, the reader learns that Buddy can hear and smell “very well” and possesses excellent eyesight and a well-developed sense of taste, among other trivia. A mix of gorgeous watercolor illustrations and sharp photographs by Emeigh accompanies these facts. The pictures, like the descriptions, help to invoke strong senses of place and character that ground the work. The book’s only flaw is an occasional gap in information. For example, words like “brumation” are thrown into the narrative without any explanation of what they mean. (A glossary at the end defines brumate as a state of “prolonged” inactivity for reptiles, similar to hibernation.) But, given the volume’s overall strengths, readers’ curiosity should be aroused enough to prompt them to look up any unfamiliar words in the glossary.
A captivating tale about a charming tortoise.