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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

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 things.

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?

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