Authors: Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Details: 32 pages, £12.99, hardback
This book tells the story of a lonely tortoise who is living in a park and making the best of his life, but who really wants some friends. After seeing the stars one night, he assumes that their bright twinkles are lights from all the other animals, so, in his quest to find a friend, he plans to set off into space.
Space Tortoise left the opinion of the Ospreys and Kingfisher classes at Netley Marsh CE Infant School in Southampton divided – some children were quickly enchanted by the beautiful illustrations and quirky tortoise antics while others were frustrated by the tortoise thinking he really could go into space wearing a plastic bowl as a helmet and using a drinking straw for oxygen. The timing of reading this delightful whimsical story was perhaps unfortunate, with the children having just completed a project on the history of space travel.
As a result, the purists in the class found it hard to step into this magical adventure of the lonely tortoise looking for some friends. As Milo said, “He is crazy! He can’t go in a rocket like that!” And Toby quite rightly commented, “You need a big rocket to go off into space.”
But the children soon put aside their initial reservations about the tortoise’s idea to go into space and began to identify with him as a character, instead – loneliness, friendship and bravery are themes that weave strongly through this picture book.
Eryn said, “It is so sad when he is in the park all alone. He was fine when he was just in the bin.”
As the story unfolds, Space Tortoise decides to set off across the park to find a rocket to take him up to the twinkling lights in the sky to find some new friends. He has to cross a desert (the sandpit) and the ocean (the pond) until he finally sees something that he thinks is a rocket – which is, in fact, the park’s clock tower.
The children loved David Litchfield’s illustrations of the “rocket” and quickly saw the similarities between this illustration and Big Ben. Thomas thought that Space Tortoise “could put rocket boosters under Big Ben”, while Alice suggested that he could climb up the side of “Big Ben” to get into the rocket.
The story’s climax – in which Space Tortoise finally arrives at the rocket clock tower – had the children gripped. They were still expecting the magic to continue and Space Tortoise to be launched into space, until his travel plans are interrupted by a little voice – a mouse. “I think the mouse will be his friend,” Maisie quickly suggested. Mabel added: “He has already found a friend, he just doesn’t know it.” The children were right – all the animals were living on the other side of the park after all.
After a hesitant start, the children really enjoyed this story. There are lots of opportunities to use this book to support drama and as a writing stimulus, as well as discussing loneliness and friendship.
Many children chose to draw parts of the story after listening to it, and a couple discussed what adventures Space Tortoise might actually have in space.
The book has become so popular that it is permanently scanned out of our school library – to the extent that I am not entirely sure of its current whereabouts.
Alice said, “I liked that book because he found a friend.” Mia summed it up: “It’s weird, but he doesn’t ever go into space.” Jago was slightly more sceptical, questioning “Why didn’t Space Tortoise see the other lights?” It’s a fun read for young children with its quirky plot and vibrant illustrations.
Jane Flood is head of learning at Oaks CE Learning Federation