Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: Sweet T and the Turtle Team

When Tara, aka Sweet T, visits Great-Aunt Mae on Gull Island, with her mom, she doesn’t expect to have all that much of a good time. She misses her older sister, Kristen, who stayed behind with their dad, and has only her younger sister, Jenna, for company. Oh, and of course Jenna’s blue stuffed rabbit called Fuzzy who has the annoying habit of always getting lost. So why are they even visiting Gull Island? It turns out that Tara and Jenna’s mom is involved in a special project at the Gull Island Aquarium.

The young reader is catapulted right into the story’s themes with the kids, including Billy (Great-Aunt Mae’s young neighbour), helping to save a pelican that had become entangled in fishing line. Tara meets a few local kids who are mysteriously rude to Billy. He won’t say what the problem is, but it comes out that Billy has a problem reading, something that Tara thinks she can help with. An impending storm heightens the drama over the special project with the aquarium – the annual hatching of the turtles! The kids can help by stepping in when a Turtle Team nest monitor had to drop out due to an injury. Will the storm prevent the baby turtles making it to the sea, and will the kids be able to help save as many hatchlings as possible.

Sweet T and the Turtle Team is an absolutely adorable book about lots of things that young readers will love: turtles, island life, wildlife and how we can help, friendship, family, and being there for each other. Author Cat Michaels very cleverly weaves both wildlife information and doing the right thing into the story without bogging the young reader down with too many details, or coming across as preachy. I have to mention the stunning illustrations! The images of the wildlife in particular (not forgetting Fuzzy, who has a couple of pics of his own) just make the story come to life and help draw young readers into the chain of events, as well as clarifying wildlife details. Irene A. Jahns is a brilliant illustrator. I also enjoyed the images of the text messages between Tara and Kristen, and this will appeal to the slightly older young reader who no doubt will be using text messages.

The characters are nicely developed and young readers will be able to relate to them easily. From feeling sorry for herself and wishing she were anywhere but on Gull Island, Tara rounds out very well into a lovely young person who thinks of others and tries to help. My favourite just had to be Great-Aunt Mae who, in the manner of many eccentric great-aunts out there, has boundless energy, can cook like a dream, and is always thinking up fun things for everyone to do. I really wish I had a Great-Aunt Mae who would make me triple fudge peanut butter pie for dessert!

The story ends on a bittersweet note, taking into consideration that nature can be harsh and only the strongest survive in times of storms and harsh conditions. I loved reading how the community come together to help the baby turtles find their way to the sea, where they will grow and thrive. The end of the book is not quite the end with some wonderful and relevant material, including gorgeous wildlife photos, which parents and teachers can use to amplify both the story and the information and lessons learned. Mind Ticklers are questions in a quiz to see how much the young reader remembers of the facts of the story. Brain Stretchers ask the young reader their opinion, what would they do in a particular situation. This is ideal for youngsters to start thinking about dealing with social issues, caring about others who are not like them, or who may have a problem, and what they think is the right behaviour in a situation.

Author Cat Michaels spent more than twenty years helping students of all ages, and her experience and expertise are apparent in this lovingly written story. Wise words from Dr. Seuss end this delightful tale, reminding us of the freedom that all creatures deserve. “And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are free, as turtles, and maybe, all creatures should be.”

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