The Book of Turtles Reviews

of time and turtles by sy montgomery

by Sy Montgomery, Matt Patterson (Illustrator)
HarperCollins (05/02/2023) 9780358458074


Montgomery and Patterson astonish with this fact-driven turtle tribute. An intriguing opening remark—“The shell invented the turtle”—leads into discussion of the creatures’ most defining feature: “The shell permits a slow pace—no need to hurry when you’re safe.” Conversational text further invites appreciation for the reptiles’ longevity (the Aldabra giant tortoise can live up to 250 years), talents (some can learn mazes), and communication abilities (leatherback babies call to each other from inside their eggs), while emphasizing individuality (“Turtles, like people, have thoughts and feelings”) and highlighting select “celebrity turtles.” Realistic, almost photographic, acrylic paintings capture diverse turtle species, inspired by “turtles the artist has personally known.” Every page is an authoritative delight in this conservation-minded ode poised to turn anyone into a turtle lover.
— Publishers Weekly

A longtime ambassador for the animal kingdom introduces turtles from around the world.

Knowing just what will intrigue her readers, naturalist Montgomery starts off with a surprising statement: “Sometime around 240 million years ago…the shell invented the turtle.” She describes the ways shells define and protect turtles. She details turtles’ other physical characteristics and their unusual longevity. She gives examples of “extreme turtles”—biggest, smallest, flattest, fattest, and so forth, and species with unusual traits and/or skills. Readers will learn that the Chinese softshell terrapin is one of several species that “tinkle through their mouths.” Some South American turtles communicate through vocalizations. She also introduces some celebrity turtles, including the late Pinta Island tortoise Lonesome George, likely the last of his kind. An appealing section on the habits of baby sea turtles leads nicely into a description of turtle population decline and why turtles are a crucial part of ecosystems…which in turn leads to suggestions of how readers can help.

Accompanying the smoothly written narrative are images of more than 30 species, often with features of their usual habitat, mostly set against a white background. Wildlife artist Patterson’s unobtrusively labeled acrylic paintings are realistic and detailed. Who can resist the tortoises enjoying a neck rub or shell scratch (from light-skinned human hands)? Smartly pairing two experts in wildlife portrayal, this one is not to be missed.

Splendid.  (Nonfiction. 5-9)
—Kirkus (STARRED review)

A stunning book that will delight readers of any age, filled with interesting facts about the turtles’ life cycles, their eating habits, and even a few myths.
— School Library Journal. (STARRED Review)

In this inviting book, Montgomery introduces turtles with facts, observations, and an irrepressible admiration for the critters as well as a knack for seeing things from their perspective. Musing about their distinctive shells and slow pace, she points out that their built-in armor protects them from predators so well they don’t need to move fast.  Like the dinosaurs, turtles first appeared some 240 million years ago. Other topics discussed include evidence of their intelligence and abilities, and examples of adaptations that have helped certain species survive.  After profiling several turtle “celebrities,” such as Lonesome George, who was the last Pinta Island tortoise, and Myrtle, a 550-pound sea turtle who is a star attraction in the Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium, the book concludes with information about endangered turtles and suggested ways that kids can  help them. 

Montgomery, whose Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot (2010) won the Sibert Medal, is in her element here, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for turtles with readers.  The book’s spare design creates a showcase for Patterson’s lifelike acrylic paintings of turtles viewed from every angle, including g a cutaway picture of a turtle’s bones and shell.  A beautiful, informative introduction to turtles.
— Carolyn Phelan, Booklist, Starred Review

“Sometime around 240 million years ago—about the time of the first dinosaurs, and 9 million years before the first crocodile—the shell invented the turtle.” With this cheekily thought-provoking opening sentence, acclaimed science writer Montgomery introduces turtles to young readers. The text continues with a brief discussion of the anatomy of that shell, a discussion enhanced by Patterson’s clear diagram. This pattern, consisting of short, informative paragraphs written in Montgomery’s easy journalistic style and accompanied by a detailed acrylic-paint illustration complementing the text, continues throughout.

There are world records (such as largest, flattest, most colorful, and stinkiest) and details about various turtle talents (such as problem-solving, hunting, and climbing). The fascinating details about each species (southern Vietnam box turtles whistle, the Chinese softshell terrapin urinates through its mouth) set the stage for individual differences. As in previous titles (The Octopus Scientists, rev. 7/15), Montgomery mentions animal personalities and stresses that each creature is unique. A brief biography of turtle celebrities includes Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise; and Fire Chief, a snapping turtle who was rehabilitated after being paralyzed. The account concludes with ways in which turtles help our world and several steps that can aid their declining populations.
— The Horn Book

A standout, lauded for its engaging presentation of turtle facts.
— Betsy Bird, BNN


This early and enthusiastic reader is Otis – New Jersey’s rising internet star. His first online video drew half a million views. Otis is an exceptionally personable Eastern Box Turtle who lives at Garden State Tortoise, a reptile rescue and breeding facility.