When I was in fourth grade, I returned to school after summer vacation in an outfit I felt great in. It involved a pastel-colored vest reminiscent of a couch only a grandmother could love — except I loved it too. A boy in my class walked up to me, looking over my clothes. I thought he was admiring my vest until he looked directly at my chest and said “I see you’ve done some growing this summer.” I was completely mortified. While he wasn’t trying to be mean, it shifted something in me that never seemed to shift completely back.
Just about all of us have had That Moment: an interaction you can never seem to shake. Sometimes it’s like my fourth grade experience, when someone isn’t trying to hurt you but they still manage to make you reconsider yourself. Other times, someone (often a bully surrounded by insecure hangers-on) makes a comment about you that cuts you to the core and makes you second guess every single thing you know about yourself. Maybe it’s about your clothes or your hair or the shade of your lipstick. It might be the color of your skin or where you live or how much money you do or don’t have. Whatever it is, it shatters confidence that seemed to be a given and leaves you feeling lost and unsure.
This is exactly what happens to sweet Terrance the turtle in Vanessa Roeder’s sophomore picture book, The Box Turtle. His reaction is a lesson in resilience — not without a little fumbling, as most stories of resilience are — that is a great example for little readers to look to when their confidence is a little shaky.
When Terrance the turtle hatched, he was missing something: a shell. Undaunted, his parents found him a little cardboard box that fit just right and reminded him that he was “so much more than just a shell.”
Terrance was perfectly happy with his box shell. It kept him dry and safe and was roomy enough for a friend. But when a group of turtles with angry eyebrows confront him and tell him his shell is weird, Terrance reexamines everything. The shell that was perfectly fine up until now suddenly feels all wrong.
So, Terrance ditches his box (which is quickly scavenged by a curious raccoon) and goes off in search of a new shell. This is where the story gets silly. Accompanied by his steadfast pal the hermit crab, Terrance and his bare bum go on a hilarious search for a new shell. He tries on everything from a mailbox and a jack-in-the-box to a boom box and a cat box all with giggle-worthy results.
Frustrated and exhausted, Terrance is ready to give up. But one small gesture of love and friendship from his friend the hermit crab creates a whole new shift in perspective for the turtle. The friends rush off to find his old box, which looks a little different since the raccoon got its paws on it. Determined, the trio set out to fix up Terrance’s beloved shell and make it just right for him.
Plucky and resilient, Terrance is a great role model for kids who are struggling to find confidence or need a reminder to celebrate the things that make them special. Like all of us, Terrance second-guesses himself, stumbles, and considers giving up. But he doesn’t. Instead, the adorable little box turtle picks himself up and takes on the world in a way that makes him feel comfortable. It’s a lesson we should all take to heart.