Tricky Tortoise

by Vicky on September 21, 2010

We stayed in Africa for this week’s Page Presents class, which featured Tricky Tortoise, retold by Mwenye Hadithi and illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway.

The story begins with Elephant stepping on Tortoise for the three hundred and thirty-second time. Tortoise gets mad and tells Elephant to watch where he’s going.  “You think you’re so important!” he fumes.  Elephant says, “Well I am important, and I’m also the biggest.”  “What about your head?” demands Tortoise.  “Have you seen what a tiny empty head you have?  Your head is so tiny and so empty that I bet I could jump right over it.”  Of course, the bet is on! 

The next day at dawn Elephant arrives at the agreed-upon place and finds Tortoise doing exercises.  Elephant doesn’t know that Tortoise’s identical brother is hidden in a clump of grass nearby.  The other animals gather to watch the contest.  They, too, are tired of Elephant throwing his weight around, and they know that Tortoise is a very tricky fellow.  A hilarious sequence ensues, with Tortoise crying, “Hup we go,” as he jumps up, and as Elephant turns his head, he sees Tortoise’s brother coming down, crying, “Down we come, easy, easy!” (having merely jumped up from his place on the other side of Elephant).  The watching animals cheer and declare Tortoise the winner, and Elephant (who doesn’t like feeling foolish) has to host a huge feast in Tortoise’s honor.

Matt taught the kids a great elephant dance.  While he drummed, we had to stomp from side to side like an elephant, with one arm swinging in front like a trunk.  Then, when the drumming stopped, we had to raise our trunks and trumpet loudly!  The kids loved it, and went elephanting around most elegantly.

Then we made tortoises, using the same bowl pattern we had used for the story of The Magic Gourd.  Turned upside down, and with the addition of a head, legs, and tail, it made a splendid Tortoise!  And the photocopied image of African mud cloth was perfect for Tortoise’s patched and mended shell!

Ravi and Miles missed the story, because they are in preschool now.  They arrived in time to make a tortoise, but afterwards they came over to me and said, “Ms. V, would you please tell us the story?”  When I had concluded a quick version of the story, they cried, “Now, Ms. V, you be the Elephant, and we will be the Tortoises!”  And we proceeded to play-act our way through the story again together.

This is exactly the kind of dramatic play that promotes children’s literacy development as they practice reconstructing a narrative and telling a story in sequence—excellent preparation for communicating through written language!

Here are some of the many tricky tortoises that were constructed!

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