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The Fastest Tortoise in Town

Authored by Howard Calvert
Illustrated by Karen Obuhanych
Published by Walker Books Ltd

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Barbara Hendricks is just a ‘regular leopard tortoise’ with no particular ambition in life until her owner Lorraine enters her in a ‘fun run’. Barbara doesn’t think it sounds like fun and isn’t at all keen but nevertheless they embark on a training programme designed to get her in shape for the big day. At first the training doesn’t go well; Barbara is overtaken by an absent-minded worm, a toddler and finally a robo vacuum cleaner leaves her feeling frustrated and frankly overwhelmed. She wants to give up but Lorraine tells her that worrying is normal and to, ‘Just run your own race.’ When the day of the fun run arrives, Barbara just wants to hide inside her shell but as Lorraine points out: ‘How will you know if you never try’?

In this twist on the fable of The Hare and the Tortoise, humorously, we find Barbara racing against other recognisably slow animals such as a sloth. However, in her eyes this is intimidating; they are the fastest animals she’s ever seen! Despite her dwindling self-belief, she puts one foot in front of the other and before she knows it, is flying along the track. By now I am sure you can guess who is victorious. In a nod to the fable the book closes with a hare challenging Barbara to a race.

The Fastest Tortoise in Town is told through the eyes of Barbara in an easy, conversational narrator’s voice. Both illustrations and text contain touches of humour and the illustrations by Karen Obuhanych capture the emotions that Barbara is feeling and expresses them with candour, most notably through the eyes. The story’s themes are clearly on display: the role of a supportive cheerleader, with a bit of self-belief much can be achieved, trying your best is what counts. In life sometimes it’s just worth trying, for as Barbara declares when challenged to race by the hare ‘… What do I have to lose?’ A simple story which young children will relate to and one likely to promote reflective discussion in a classroom context.

Shortlisted for the FCBG Award 2024 Books for Younger Readers Category