What makes a picture book special? Perhaps, in this case, it’s a “marriage of true minds” between two authors who love children and the bond they have developed with their illustrator, Jo Robinson.
The series is dedicated to building children’s self-esteem and confidence, achieving self-acceptance and celebrating difference. Myrtle’s adventures illustrate the importance of friendship, of supporting those who are facing difficulties, of giving and receiving help and encouraging empathy.
Myrtle and the Big Mistake is the fourth book in this successful series which takes on important topics in a way that engages the hearts and minds of young children, but also appeals to older siblings, parents, teachers and grandparents, offering opportunities for discussion about problems that many children face every day and giving young listeners an opportunity to develop their own ideas about how to tackle these.
Myrtle is a loveable character, self-aware and serious but at the same time friendly and curious. Each story extends Myrtle’s experience of the world and expands her community of friends. In the first book she is hurt when a bullying stranger turtle claims she can’t be a turtle since she is purple. She longs to be green like others in the Big Pond. Her friends however point out that each of them is different —one is a brownish colour, one has spots, another has a differently shaped shell and that they all love her purple shell.
In Myrtle’s Game, the turtles’ favourite game is a form of water-soccer. When they discover that some of the woodland animals play a similar game on grass they encourage Myrtle, their best “blocker” to ask if she can play. When the team tells her that turtles can’t play soccer, she and her friends get together to help her to become an even better player. After training hard, she asks if she can try out for the woodland team and they admit she is a good goalie so she plays with them, cheered on by her turtle friends. As she leaves the field she invites the team to come over and try playing water-soccer with them in the Big Pond.
In the third story, Myrtle Makes a New Friend, a fox family moves into the neighbourhood and some turtles become suspicious and angry. Adults say things that make Myrtle and her friends afraid. Myrtle is nervous but, when she meets young Felix Fox; he is hiding behind a bush and crying because he thinks that all the children will hate him. Myrtle kindly insists that this is not true and says she will be his friend. When Myrtle tells Felix, she is going to be late, he gives her a ride on his back to school, where Myrtle is able to introduce him to the others as her new friend and he becomes part of their play group.
The fourth book examines the fallout, when one of Myrtle’s classmates mishears and spreads a false story about another member of their class. This time Myrtle immediately steps up to defend her friend, Snapper, and tells the gossiper that the story is untrue. But the gossip spreads quickly and Myrtle and her friends have to track down the source of the story, Garret the parrot, and set the record straight. Garret tells all the animals he is sorry and that he made a big mistake. Still feeling bad and unhappy he is about to leave, but before he can fly away, Myrtle and Snapper to his surprise invite him to play. Children are engaged here in understanding complex problems and solutions, allowing them to sympathize with the characters and appreciate Garret’s remorse and his honesty at the conclusion to the story.They can also share in his relief and the happiness of the group of friends as they all go “off to play together”.
Myrtle, and her friends, new and old are deftly developed by the authors into characters who are hard to forget and easy to love. Jo Robinson’s well designed and colourful illustrations capture the emotional moments and turning points of these appealing stories. Young listeners will want to hear these tales repeated over and over again and will, no doubt, be anxious to hear the about Myrtle’s further adventures.