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3.02.2012

When Turtle Grew Feathers (2007)

When Turtle Grew Feathers
Retold by Tim Tingle

Illustrated by Stacey Schuett

Acrylic

August House

I remember way back when, when I had first become interested in storytelling, a Texan girlfriend gave me a set of "audio cassettes" - a bygone device upon which sound is captured on thin strips of tape - of stories by Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle. He's been around for a long time, and so it was great to find this beautifully illustrated, vibrant edition of one of his tales, "When Turtle Grew Feathers."

Of course, it's not really his tale. The last page of the book includes a list of his sources in rendering this here telling. David Bushnells's Myths of the Louisiana Choctaws from 1909, very nice, followed by this entry: "Jones, Charley. Oral interview. August 1992." Following that, "McAlvin, Jay. Tape-recorded interview. November 1992." Wow. Lest no man audit Tingle's cultural memory!

I looked up this Charley Jones, curious to find out who he was. The best I could find was an interview with Tingle, in which he refers to Jones as being both a Choctaw tribal storyteller and his mentor. "Charley Jones says, 'Tell the stories,'" says Tingle. "But make sure the origin is acknowledged."

And so it is.
When Turtle Grew Feathers

"Most everybody knows about the race between Turtle and Rabbit," the story begins. "But the Choctaw people tell the story differently..." which immediately got me wondering, was this an actual response to the old fable, and if so, when exactly did Aesop make its way over to those Choctaw? Or, was this yet another example of synchronous stories evolving independent of each other? Even good ol' Uncle Remus tells a story about a tricky turtle outwitting Brer Rabbit.

There is a fast, boastful rabbit, a slow turtle and a proposed race. After that initial set-up, however, it careens in wildly divergent ways, thanks to the interference of a oblivious turkey stepping on Turtle's shell, accusing him of "sleeping too low in the grass," and finally gathering together all of the ants to sew together Turtle's shell using the silk from the cornfield, yes indeed. What does that have to do with the race? Only that then Turkey decides to take up residence in the cozy, newly-sewn shell, and is thus mistaken for Turtle when he becomes the object of Rabbit's boasting:

"I feel real fast! I'm ready to race. Who wants a little mud in his face?"

When Turtle Grew Feathers

Rabbit is in for a surprise, and Stacey Schuett does a great job illustrating that magnificent transformation, along with the various expressions of shock, bewilderment and shame on poor Rabbit.

Doesn't really have the same lesson as Aesop's Tortoise and the Hare, though, does it? Slow and steady definitely did not when the race this time around. Fortunately, Tingle enunciates the moral quite clearly:

Turtle learned you don't have to be the biggest, or the fastest, or the best. But it sure is nice to be friends with those that are!


In this video, Tim Tingle talks to a group of children.
I like that he addresses the difference between telling a story
and writing a story. Adjectives.

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