Old Turtle and the Broken Truth
Reviewed: September 20, 2005
By: Douglas Wood / watercolours by Jon J. Muth
Publisher: Scholastic Press
60 pages, $24.99
Sometimes publishing categories and decisions are more than a little strange.
Old Turtle and the Broken Truth looks like a children's book. It's
that size; it has text on pages with lots of white space; it has appealing
watercolour illustrations; it has a story with a nice message.
Really, though, it doesn't belong in the hands of toddlers and young readers.
They aren't going to get it. Douglas Wood has written a thoughtful little
short story about tolerance and how people fool themselves. John J. Muth has
produced some really stunning illustrations to go with the short story.
Wood's tale uses motifs that feel very much like first nations myth structures,
celebrating the wisdom of the animal kingdom over that of the poor, deluded
humans who fool themselves.
When A TRUTH - not the only truth, but one of many - falls from the sky it
breaks in two. The animals discover the part that is easiest to find. It is
pretty, shiny and attractive, but they instinctively know there's something
wrong with it. It is incomplete, or broken.
Humans are much less perceptive. When one of them finds the broken truth
he accepts it as the final revelation. He hordes it, shows it only to those
who are like himself, and soon these people value THE TRUTH above all other
So naturally they begin to look down on other people, and the other people
grow jealous of them and want what they have. Wars are fought, the land is
ravaged, and all the other truths of the world are ignored.
Finally a little girl sees how bad things have become and she goes in search
of a better way, travelling through the Mountains of Imagining and the River
of Wondering Why until she comes to the center of the world. On the great
hill there, she finds Old Turtle, and asks his help to change the world.
Old Turtle gives her the rest of the broken truth, containing the rest of
the sentence that no one has ever seen. He instructs her in the knowledge
that even the whole truth, once it is put back together, is not the only truth,
and teaches her how to see the small and lovely truths of life along with
the big ones.
And when she has learned these lessons, like all heroes who travel to the
center of things to find what the world needs, she has to take that knowledge
back to the rest of the world and try to share it.
In real life most of those visionaries get stoned, crucified or assassinated,
but fiction has that advantage over life, that it can tell us how things ought
to be, so in this story, the Little Girl's mission is a success.
Don't we wish it was that easy?