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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Tudley Didn't Know
Tudley Didn't Know
written and illustrated by John Himmelman
Sylvan Dell Publishing,(May 2006)
One afternoon Tudley stretched out on a rock and watched a hummingbird build its nest. The bird dropped a piece of lichen and it landed next to Tudley.
"I'll get that," said Tudley. He picked up the lichen and flew up to the nest.
"Here you go," he said to the hummingbird.
"What did you just do?" asked the bird.
"I brought you your lichen," said the turtle.
"But turtles can't fly," said the bird.
"They can't?" said Tudley. "I didn't know that."
--Tudley Didn't Know, by John Himmelman, p. 2-3.
Some of us limit ourselves by telling ourselves we can't do something, or by listening to criticism before we even try. But Tudley is the opposite—he believes in himself so much, he doesn't even question whether or not he can do something. He just does it. He accomplishes the impossible, because he doesn't know he can't. Tudley Didn't Know is an inspiring, feel-good book about believing in yourself, and discovering what you can do if you don't listen to criticism or doubt.
When a hummingbird drops a piece of lichen into the pond near him, Tudley picks it up and flies it back to the hummingbird. The hummingbird is appropriately shocked, and tells Tudley that turtles can't fly—which Tudley didn't know. A similar thing happens with a firefly (Tudley makes his tail glow to call the other fireflies), a frog (Tudley hops to reach the mother frog), and a katydid (Tudley rubs his arms together to make music), but Tudley just keeps doing the impossible. Then he falls upside down on a rock and gets stuck. The creatures he helped try to help him back, and when they can't, they keep him company until the turtles arrive. The turtles show him what turtles can do—retreat into their shell—so it won't hurt when he falls back to the ground. Tudley learns to do that, but he keeps flying—and after a while, the other turtles wonder if they can't do that, too.
Himmelman's (Chickens to the Rescue) first page of text is a little slow; although it sets the stage, not much happens. But as soon as page two of the text starts, the story leaps into gear and keeps flying, right to the end. The text is long, but moves quickly; readers will want to know what amazing thing Tudley can do next.
Tudley is an especially likeable character; he is helpful, thoughtful, and kind, and he believes in himself and impulsively tries out new things, thinking that he can do them if someone else can—and so he can! Tudley has an innocent way of speaking that makes him seem gentle, non-judgmental, and open-minded. He doesn't take to heart any of the creatures telling him that he can't do something, and all these things help the reader root for Tudley and care about him.
Himmelman's story has an uplifting feel to it. The text remains upbeat by Tudley keeping true to himself and not getting discouraged by what the others say. Humor also adds to the happy feeling; the shock and disbelief of the other characters as Tudley does one thing after another that they thought was impossible brings great humor—especially the first shocked, then weary turtles. There is also humor in Tudley effortlessly accomplishing many things that turtles can't do, and not knowing what turtles normally can do.
The positive messages throughout the book are implied and hinted at through the events of the story; they fit perfectly into the text. Tudley's repeated success (where the reader knows that turtles shouldn't be able to do what Tudley can do, but Tudley can do those things any way) bring happiness and inspires a feeling that the reader can do anything.
Tudley is the only character that is named, and although that helps keep the focus on Tudley, I would have liked to see a few of the characters he befriended be named.
There's a pleasing repetition and rhythm to Tudley's helping other creatures, doing something that turtles can't do, his "I didn't know that" in response to creatures telling him that turtles can't do something, and his asking the other turtles if they knew turtles couldn't do that.
There's a nice movement and tension that build up to the climax, when Tudley becomes stuck and frightened. The tension is eased slightly and comfort is brought in for the reader when all the creatures come to stay with Tudley throughout the night, until the turtles can come help him. Although I would have preferred that Tudley come to the solution himself, it was good that he was able to get himself out of his predicament once the other turtles told him how.
The resolution is particularly satisfying because Tudley discovers something turtle-like that he didn't know he could do (in contrast to all the un-turtle-like things he did do); because of the very different meaning in Tudley's response "I didn't know I could do that!" (as opposed to "I didn't know that"); and most especially because Tudley doesn't let others tell him he can't do something, but instead keeps flying and glowing. It's also satisfying because the other turtles begin to question their own self-imposed limitations, and learn from Tudley.
The text cleverly and seamlessly incorporates a little learning into the story; young readers won't feel like they're learning, but will discover what turtles normally can and can't do. Parents, teachers, and inquisitive-minded readers will also enjoy the bonus material in the back that includes scientific information on the various creatures in the book as well as craft projects (making a hopping paper tudley, and sugar water to attract hummingbirds).
The ink-and-gouache illustrations are both realistic and gentle. The creatures appear friendly, and there are often visible smiles. Tudley is adorable, especially when he's flying, his arms fluttering in the air, his neck stretched out. Himmelman makes good use of the turtles' faces and necks to convey emotions and body language—happiness, shock, compassion, kindness, worry, and exhilaration are all shown. The creatures seem carefully illustrated to reflect real-life animals, depicting the natural markings, shapes, etc., yet they also have a slightly cartoon-like feel, making them kid-friendly. There is also a nice mixture of creatures, from a bird to a frog to a firefly, showing diversity and community.
There is humor and an airy lightness to many of the illustrations. The humor is especially evident in the amazing, un-turtle-like things Tudley can do, in the other turtles' expressions of shock, and in Tudley's stretching his neck forward to ask if the turtles knew that turtles don't do those things, while the lightness is most visible when Tudley is flying—which is often.
Many of the illustrations bleed to the edges of the page or spread, while others are smaller illustrations with soft curved edges, or multiple small images showing a sequence of events. Himmelman uses a somewhat muted palette of dark greens, blues, browns, and reds, with some lighter greens, blues, and yellows. The water is depicted in a dark green-grey with patterns on it that make it look almost like flagstones; this may be confusing for some readers. Shades of green are reflected and echoed in many areas of the illustrations; in Tudley, the water, the trees, mixed into the rocks, the bird and lichen, Tudley's glowing tail, the surrounding plant life, and so much more, and this, plus Tudley's familiar figure, help pull the book together visually.
Himmelman shows a movement through day and night, where the colors move from light to dark to light again. Tudley's hardest moments are appropriately the darkest; Tudley falls during the night, so is in the dark, and when he is waiting, scared, with his new friends, everything and everyone in that illustration is shown in a black silhouette, with the sky an orange and yellow.
Tudley usually stands out as the focal point, with his bright green-and-red body, but sometimes he is eclipsed by other characters, such as the frog, or the other turtles watching him fall back down. Other times he stands out brilliantly, especially when he is flying. I would have liked to see Tudley be the visual focal point in all the illustrations, but this doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the book.
The last spread is wordless, with the illustration completing the previous spread's sentence, and this works exceptionally well, as the other turtles rise up to fly. It leaves the book on an exhilarating note and provides a completely satisfying ending.
This is an inspiring, enjoyable book that prompts readers to believe in themselves, to do what feels right, and to not accept limitations that they or anyone else place upon them. It encourages readers to dream, to open their minds to possibilities, to be who they are, and to think for themselves. It also promotes kindness, compassion, and a sense of community. Tudley Didn't Know is a Book Sense 2006 pick, and rightly so.
If you need to be inspired, if you need a sense of hope, or you just want to feel good, pick up this book; you won't regret it. Highly recommended.
Want to know more about the author/illustrator? Read the interview I did with John Himmelman here.
-Added February 2007
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