Faith meets animal welfare in this short debut novel for young readers.
Somewhere along the Connecticut River, a small wood turtle is born. Through various interactions with thoughtless kids, the turtle migrates unwillingly to upstate New York, where young Jane Spencer finds him. His harrowing journey has left him with an injured leg, and Jane is determined to help him heal. After taking him to the local veterinarian, she does her research and discovers that her new friend, whom she calls Peg Leg, is part of an endangered species that only lives in Connecticut. She worries for his health and safety, especially since he is without the use of one of his legs. While growing close with Peg Leg and tending to his needs, she is taught in Sunday school about the saints, including St. Francis of Assisi, who is best known for his service to all animals. She feels an immediate kinship to St. Francis, whose stained-glass visage caught her attention before Mass, and her strong faith leads her to do the very best she can to help acclimate Peg Leg to walking, first without a leg and then with a small, specially made prosthetic. Jane spends all summer with Peg Leg, taking him for walks and on excursions with her friends or brother. She even keeps a daily journal, carefully detailing Peg Leg’s care and progress. Fitzpatrick’s timely, gentle story is punctuated with simple pen images by debut illustrator MacDonald. At first glance, this book appears to be a nonfiction account about caring for turtles, but it is actually an appealing fictional glimpse of a common occurrence: a child rehabilitating an injured animal in order for it to thrive once again in the wild. The connection to Roman Catholicism will be a surprise to unsuspecting readers, but the allusions to St. Francis make sense within the context of this touching ecological tale.
While readers unfamiliar with the Catholic faith may have trouble relating to a girl finding inspiration in St. Francis, this sweet turtle tale delivers an important environmental lesson.