Life in these strange times: Yertel the turtle and other tales

When I was four years old, my mother discovered by accident that I knew how to read. Years later, this is the story that my mom told me: One evening, my mom was tired and wanted to sleep. She had four kids between the ages of one and eight, and she was tired. 

Every day, I insisted that my mom read to me, and that day was no exception. My mom decided that she had the perfect technique for getting me (and her) to sleep more quickly. She would abridge the story, and I would then be ready for sleep. Except there was a problem…

“Mommy, you left out all of those words!” I protested, upon completion of the shortened tale.

“What words did I leave out, honey?” my mom asked. I then proceeded to read the story to my mother. She looked at me with some amazement because she believed that I had memorized the entire story. And it is very possible that I had indeed memorized the entire story.

“Wait here, honey!” my mom said, forgetting that she was ready to go to sleep immediately or, at least, after she had brushed her teeth (my family takes oral hygiene very seriously!!!). Before long, she had returned with a new book, one that I had never seen.

“Here you go. Read this one,” she said. 

Oooh, a new book! In my world, a new book was about the equivalent of “something shiny.” I couldn’t get enough of seeing and touching new books, and that is still true.

I read the new book, and my mom realized that it was true. I was indeed literate.

I do not actually remember that experience. And I don’t remember any time of being unable to read. What I do remember was the wonder of seeing new books, especially new books by my favorite author when I was a little kid. That author was Doctor Seuss. His books were full of delight and magic and bright color. He had characters like Yertel the turtle, who was the king of the pond. There was a cat in the hat, who broke all of the rules with great style and glee. There was a kid who took way too much delight in jumping up and down on his father in a book that was titled “Hop on Pop.”

Years later, I have moved on to different types of magic in reading.

But they always seem to build upon my Doctor Seuss foundation. As an example, Gunter Grass’ book, “The Flounder” introduced me to my second talking fish, a flounder who understood the wisdom of the world. My first talking fish was the panicky goldfish, whose fishbowl (and world) was constantly getting upset in “The Cat in the Hat.” 

Today, as I sit in my house because of pandemic, I am grateful that being literate means being able to travel though time and space without leaving my chair. I am also grateful that I was able to be a self-taught reader, even though I have no memory of how I acquired my reading skills. I have no doubt, however, that having parents who read to me was a big part of it. And, I hope that, during this time, families are finding the time and the opportunity to read together and take that imaginary trip through time and space. It is fun for the parents and, for the kids, it is magic.

5 thoughts on “Life in these strange times: Yertel the turtle and other tales”

  1. Virginia Nicols

    What a wonderful post to end this blog challenge. It was just the lovely memory and the hope for the future that I needed. Thank you!

  2. That a great memory your mom shared to you. Lia loves books and I hope she continues to read. When my granddaughter was young she couldn't read hardly at all. In school the teachers told her she couldn't read so they read her tests so she could verbally give the answers. Fast forward she is now almost 30 years old and is an excellent reader and always has a book with her and reads to her children.

  3. I cherish my times of reading to my son, although it was exhausting (and I only had one!) I am told I was reading some by the time I was four, and my sister in law also was reading when she entered kindergarten. Yertle the Turtle was one of my favorite stories for reading to my son, who, of course, did not know about its link to World War II. (As an adult, I've enjoyed some of Dr Seuss' political cartoons, a part of him that's been mainly lost over the years.)


    I never heard of Dr. Suess until I had kids. My series was Herbie- as well as the entire Tom Swift and Tom Swift Jr. series.

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