- TURTLES STORIES
from Storytell posts plus original research)
To retell these stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
In performance, always credit your sources.
Book titles are in dark blue and underlined. Click on them to learn more about the books and how to buy them.
Online links are in light blue and underlined. Click on them to go to the Internet to get more information or stories.
Story titles are in bold type.
Attributions and dates of entries are not included prior to 2004.
When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Tale from the Choctaw Nation by Tim Tingle (2007 - ages 4-8)
PreSchool-Grade 2–Variations of the race between the tortoise and the hare crop up regularly, but this version, retold as a trickster tale, stands out for its humor and expressive illustrations. Here, the rabbit only thinks he raced a turtle. In fact, it was a flying turkey wearing Turtle's shell. Also a porquoi tale, the story begins when Turkey steps on Turtle's back, breaking his shell into pieces. Turkey recruits an army of ants to mend it with cornsilk, and the shell transforms from a swirl into its familiar geometric pattern. In appreciation, Turtle allows Turkey to try it on just as Rabbit appears, itching for a race. The rest is history, though few have heard the historic event retold quite like this. The prose alternates between rhyming and nonrhyming text and for the most part it bounces along without stumbling. A few lines feel manipulated to create the rhyme, such as 'What is it?' asked Turtle, his eyes opened wide./'Here comes Rabbit,' said the Little Bitty Five./'Rabbit wants to race, and he won't be denied.' Bright cartoon illustrations capture the tale's humor and energy. Turkey explodes off the page as he emerges from Turtle's shell, ready to run. The animals' various emotions are well rendered, including Turtle's chagrin, Rabbit's aggression and later humiliation, and the budding friendship between Turtle and Turkey. Use this book as a variation to a common folktale, an introduction to Native American lore, or as a fine read-aloud all on its own.–Suzanne Myers Harold, Multnomah County Library System, Portland, OR
Sea Turtle Stories:
There is a Japanese story about a fisherman Urashima Taro and Other Japanese Children Stories, who saves a sea turtle, meets her next day when fishing,
travels with her to the land under water and the sea dragon king,
marries the princess who was the turtle, returns to three days
later to visit his parents, finds that three hundred years have
passed, opens a box he was told not to open, purple fumes comes
out of the box and in an instant he becomes three hundred years
old and dies. I have it in a Swedish translation from 1903, but
it was apparently translated to English at request from Andrew
Lang, so it might be somewhere in his collections.
Another idea would be to use the story about the turtle who fell
into the sea because he couldn´t keep himself from talking
when carried by his bird friends. It could be used to explain
why there are turtles in the sea nowadays. I don´t know
what science says about this; perhaps it is the presence of turtles/porpoises
on land that needs explaining.
2) I am not sure if this would be appropriate but in the story
Urashima Taro and Other Japanese Children Stories, the giant sea turtle
who is the messenger of the Dragon King who lives under the sea
is saved by Urashima. It is a story for older children, grade
four (age 10) and up IMHO. There is an adaptation by Rafe Martin
in Ready-To-Tell Tales (American Storytelling) by Holt and
Another one that might work is How the Turtle
Cracked Its Shell, although I don't think that turtle is
a sea turtle. Maybe you could adapt it. October's Lore
Here are some turtle stories.
Philippine myths, legends, and folktales
January's Native American Lore for 1997
Waynaboozhoo and the Great Flood - Native American Legends
3) This story is on one of Dovie's tapes. I tell it frequently. Turtle wants to go south with the birds, and he bites on the middle of a stick, which they hold with their feet. When he speaks (in wonder at the sights, in response to people making fun of him . . . several versions), he loses his grip on the stick and falls. He buries himself in the mud and comes out in the spring, his shell healed but with the cracked pattern to this day.
4) Here's an old compilation of turtle stories that Granny Sue put together - note that it has names of folks who posted those stories to Storytell - I'm looking for a copy of Anansi and Turtle Go to Dinner (Story Cove: a World of Stories), and noted that not all of these are in SOS.
• Turtle of Koka by M.R. MacDonald --Mary G. Ketner
(See one version of this story at http://sumatrawoman.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_archive.html )
(Another version is at http://www.dorisdiedrich.de/storytelling.pdf )
• Eleven Turtle Tales (American Storytelling) by Pleasant de Spain (both book and cassette versions)--Elizabeth Parkhurst, includes Leopard's Magnificent Drum (Pleasant DeSpain)--Sean Buvala
• There are several Turtle stories - look in Bruchac's Iroquois Stories: Heroes and Heroines Monsters and Magic.
• There is a wonderful Anansi and the Turtle, from the LifeStories for Kids(TM) Series - African -but I can't find my source right now. It's a terrific tale where Anansai isn't very hospitable to Turtle. Turtle responds in kind when Anansai comes to dine with him.
• Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Seuss--Ina Doyle
• Urashima Taro and Other Japanese Children Stories (Jane Yolen Favorite Folktales from Around the World (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) -- Victoria Dworkin
• The Great Turtle Drive by Steve Sanfield--Alyson Neil and Betsy Bybell
• There's the Indian story about how turtle got the cracks in his shell, after trying to catch a flite south with two swan buddies....True Rhymer
• How the Turtle Cracked His Shell in Ready-To-Tell Tales (American Storytelling) by Holt and Mooney--Debra Olson Tolar
• King Turtle by Seuss--tuly
• Here are several Turtle tales:
1. In the following versions, Turtle (Terrapin, Tarrypin, or Tortoise) challenges Rabbit to a race. He defeats and teaches Rabbit a lesson. He or she has the help of other relatives. If you look under the Motif K11-22.2, Contests Won by Deception" there are probably more. I am including information on 6 versions.
How the Turtle Beat the Rabbit (Cherokee) in Why the Possum's Tail Is Bare and Other Classic Southern Stories by Jimmy Neil Smith and Why the Possum's Tail is Bare by James E. Connolly.
The Little Turtle and the Wolf (Seminole) in Legends of the Seminoles by Betty Mae Jumper.
Slow Train to Arkansas (U.S.) in Terrapin`s Pot of Sense. Illustrated by Elton Fax by Harold Coulander.
Mr. Rabbit Finds his Match at Last (African American) in The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris.
The Tortoise and the Reedbusk Run a Race (Central Africa) in The Magic Drum: Tales from Central Africa by W. F. P. Burton.
The Hare and the Hedgehog (Germany) in Told again: Old tales told again by Walter de la Mare.
2. The Complete Fables (Penguin Classics): The Tortoise and the Hare.
3. The Hungry Spider and Turtle. Basically, spider invites Turtle over for lunch. But everytime Turtle sits down to eat, Spider tells him to wash his feet. And everytime Turtle returns there is less food. Several months later Turtle returns the favor. I only have the plot on this story and have worked up my own version. It is suppose to be in a book by Courlander and Herzot (1947).
4. The Turtle and the Monkey (Philippine Tale) by Joanna Galdone.
5. Anansi and Turtle and Pigeon (Jamacian) in Jamaica Anansi Stories (Forgotten Books).
6. The Aminal by Balian. Little boy finds a "friend" and takes it home with him. He tells one of his friends and she tells another who tells another who.... Eventually, his friends decide to save him from the "terrible, horrible aminal." In the end they all find out that it is just a "little turtle."
7. There is another story about Little Rabbit who gets lost from his family when they move to a new location. He begins to cry and Coyote tells the little fellow that his song is "wonderful." Little Turtle tries to tell him that he is not singing, but crying. Coyote insists that it is singing and threatens him into continuing the song. Finally, L. Turtle tricks Coyote and wins his freedom. The trick is to convince Coyote that the river water is not good for the Turtle so that Coyote throws the L. Turtle into the river. After Coyote realizes his mistake and Little Turtle is gone, he kicks a stone and crys. A passing crow admires Coyote's song. The story ends with Coyote saying, "Stupid Bird,
don't you know when you hear crying."
Sharon Peregrine Johnson
Joe Hayes has a story in Coyote & Native American Folk Tales: Native American Folk Tales. Coyote & Turtle is similar to Brer Rabbit and the briar patch, only this time the charcters are a young turtle and coyote. Coyote captures Turtle as he is crying for his mother and requests that turtle teach him the song. Turtle: "I'm not singing. I'm crying." Eventually Turtle outwits coyote and ends up back in the cold river where he was born. Coyote starts crying at turtle's escape, and a passing bird asks what song he is singing. Coyote: "I'm not singing. I'm crying."
I don't think anyone has mentioned the old story that California is built on the back of a family of turtles. Their squabbling and jostling cause earthquakes. I don't remember if that's Chumash or Shoshone in origin. I believe it's in a book called "Stories California Indians Told" or something like that.
From Rose, the Story Lady--
I have a little turtle.
His name is Tiny Tim.
I put him in the bathtub
To teach him how to swim.
He drank up all the water.
He ate up all the soap.
Now every time he tries to talk,
There's a bubble in his throat.
I just love a children's book called Old Turtle.
One of the many stories about how turtle's shell was broken is this one:
Turtle could not keep his mouth shut: he said mean things so that the only friend he had was buzzard. He convinced buzzard to take him flying, but while they were flying, he smelled something terrible: buzzard's breath. He couldn't keep from mentioning it. Buzzard explained that he only eats dead, rotten things--did turtle mind? Turtle looked down at the earth, far away, and said he didn't mind. But he couldn't keep his mouth shut; he finally blurted out, "Buzzard, you stink!" Buzzard went into a nose dive, and turtle fell down, down, and his shell smashed against the hard ground.
It took turtle a week to get someone who would agree to turn him on his feet again. He wasn't hurt, but his shell was cracked. Turtle learned his lesson; now he never says a single word.
-- a variation from a story by Sara Cone Bryant that I found in How to Tell Stories to Children: Plus 33 Stories to Tell Them, 1907 and in Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss' fantastic book, Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom (Multimedia DVD included with the book).
Source supplied by Mike Meyers.
Here is a Cherokee Indian story, How Turtle Cracked His Shell, told by Robin Moore. This can be found in Ready-To-Tell Tales (American Storytelling) by David Holt & Bill Mooney. (I understand that this is actually a combination of two Cherokee Indian Stories.)
Turtle and Possum are sharing persimmons. Wolf comes along and pushes turtle aside and starts eating persimmons. Possum throws down a big one. Wolf chokes, gasps, goes belly-up with all 4 paws in the air. That would have been the end of him except his friends come along and perform the "wolflich" maneuver and he is back to his mean, onery self. He chases after turtle and possum. Possum goes up a tree and wolf catches turtle. Wolf takes him up the hill to where the wolves are cooking dinner. Threatens to throw him in the pot. "I'll just kick and stomp and break the pot to pieces." Wolf threatens to throw turtle in the fire. "I'll just roll around and around and put your fire out."
Wolf threatens to throw him into the river. Turtle begs him not to do this. Wolf "frisbees" him into the river. Turtle swims away. BUT. . he hit his shell on a big rock in the middle. Turtle heals in the sun but the shiny smooth shell he was proud of is no more. And to this day turtle's shells have 13 segments.
I bought a turtle shell at an Indian Pow Wow. It makes a great visual aid to use with the story. I love to tell this story. I involve the children in "eating persimmons", using hand motions. I love dramatizing the dying wolf and howling, "I'mmmmmm goooonnnnaa get himmmmm!" Turtle and his aching back are fun to do too!
--from Rose the Story Lady
The Sad Tale of Rabbit's Tale from Magic Boat, M.A. Jagendorf and Virginia Weng, Vanguard Press, New York)
Once upon a time rabbits had long beautiful bushy tails. Rabbit wanted to cross the river but he couldn't swim. So he boasted that there were more rabbits than turtles. The turtles argued back. Rabbit says, "We'll count our children." Turtle lines all his children up in a big line across the river. Rabbit counts them as he and his friends hop across. Then he taunts turtle for being gullible. Turtle is angry. When the rabbits aren't looking, turtle creeps out of the water and bites off their tails! And that's why rabbits have short stumpy tails!
(By the way, did you know that gullible isn't in the dictionary?)
--Rose the Story Lady
Tortoise, Hare and the Sweet Potatoes can be found in Ox of the Wonderful Horns, The: And Other African Folktales, Ashley Bryan, Atheneum, New York, 1971.
Tortoise and Hare decide to steal sweet potatoes from the boar because they are so hungry. They no sooner have them roasted, than rabbit hears boar coming. "Quick, rum!" Tortoise pretends to run (slowly) and then crawls in the empty sack. Rabbit comes back, sees tortoise is out of sight and throws the roasted sweet potatoes in the sack. All the time he is carrying the sack of sweet potatoes (and tortoise), tortoise is eating all the sweet potatoes. Rabbit is thinking he was really smart to outwit tortoise. When rabbit sits down to pull out a big sweet potatoe, he finds he is holding tortoise! He lays down on the ground and cries because she is so sneaky!
Rose the Story Lady
An interesting turtle fact that seems to fit into sessions involving folk or Indian tales: The center of a turtle's shell has 13 squares on the back of it's shell representing the 13 lunar months in a year. It also has 28 smaller squares around the larger ones representing the number of days in a lunar cycle. Got this fact (?) out of Jack Maquire's Creative Storytelling: Choosing, Inventing, & Sharing Tales for Children.
Joseph Bruchac has a great children's book Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back. Philomel. On one of our several trips from CA to TX we stopped at a desert nature museum, exactly where escapes me for the moment, somewhere in Arizona I believe . . . the female turtle's tail flap section is a larger piece, ie. no crack in the center of that section as it is in a male turtle . . . it's so the flap can raise to lay eggs.
A short story I got from Dayton Edwards:
Turtle and frog sat on a rock in the river.
A rain drop fell on turtle's head.
Turtle said "It's going to rain"
Frog said "We'd better go home - we'll get all wet"
So they both swam home.
Turtle stories are found in the Native American cultures of the Northeast -Iroqois and Southeastern tribes. Turtle is a primary trickster like Coyote. Check Arthur Parker's Seneca collections - Skunny Wundy is excellent. Look also for some Turtle stories in the Br'r Rabbit - Uncle Remus tradition - there are a number in Julius Lester's quartet of Uncle Remus tales. There are stories in the African tradtions - one of the best is Tug a War - where a turtle gets a Hippo and Elephant into a tugging war - each thinking they are pulling against the turtle who boasts he is the strongest beast in the jungle.
--Barry Kent McWilliams
1) Very similar to the Tortoise and Buzzard story is one I found on a tape called Edna Mason Kaula African Village Folktales Audio Collection - read by Brock Peters and Diana Sands put out by Harper Collins, SBN 137. This is story of the Bimba or Bemba / Bantu (It's a recording - anyone, please correct if you know the correct spelling -
I'll check it out tomorrow if I can) people from area now called Zambia. Wonderful thing about this tape is that before each tale a history of the people and area are given - those are wonderful stories too.
This story is called The Pattern on Tortoise's Back.
Tortoise decides he wants to visit his friend vulture who lives high in the mountains where Tortoise can't travel. He has his wife wrap him up in tobacco leaves. She has to tell vulture that Tortoise has a that he is a pack of tobacco that her wants traded for grain. (In the background material this whole process of "silent trading" is explained.) Vulture is almost home when Tortoise yells, "Surprise, it's me in the tobacco leaves." Vulture is so surprised that he drops Tortoise.
Moral - Keep your mouth shut. Or Don't be impatient.
2) On the same tape : How Animals Got Their Beautiful Colors from the Zulu people in South Africa.
This was long ago when all the animals were the same color -sort of dingy gray. Hyena is very mean to Tortoise - and Tortoise is rescued from his plight by some other animals. In gratitude Tortoise paints the some other animals - giraffe, zebra, etc. When Hyena sees the other animals, he bullies Tortoise into painting him. That's why Hyena is such a messy looking animal.
New Query 4/11/09
I've been working in an after school program teaching art to k-3 kids. We've done some puppets and 3D sculpture. I know that the other two days the kids will be studying turtles in their science enrichment class. I want to design an art project that is related to that. I am familiar with some Native American turtle stories. But I am wondering if anyone has a version of any turtle stories particularly suited to this age AND if anyone has any ideas about involving them in storytelling through this that would help.
We've done some puppetry and I'm thinking it might be good to either tell them a story and have them create their own turtles OR somehow have them each develop a character and do some interviewing of each other. Anyone have some specific exercises? I meet with them 45minutes each time, 3 times a week. The age range is broad and discipline and focus is an ongoing challenge. But right now is a good time as we just had a show of their work in a local Children's Museum and they so loved that. I'll be posting their pictures soon. Thanks for all ideas you may have.
Amy P.K. 4/11/09
I took the story collected by Pleasant DeSpain from Brazil called The Dancing Turtle
Dancing Turtle: A Folktale from Brazil
and made it into a puppet show.
It lends itself so beautifully for the arts...there is a dancing turtle, flute music, and the kids try to paint a rock to look like the escaped turtle (art). As a bonus you get to throw in some Portuguese words for a touch of bilingual. It is absolutely great for your age group.
My puppet show is on my website at:
However, I used Spanish words instead of Portuguese...after all, the story has traveled to other South American countries that do speak Spanish.
Marilyn K. 4/11/09
My favorites are Turtle Flies South and Osebo's Drum. There are other drum stories with turtles too, and drumming is always fun...:)
Zalka Csenge Virág
Note from JB about Osebo's Drum: Guess what I found in Story Lovers World? All of these Osebo links. 4/11/09
The Leopard's Drum, Urdu/English-Language Edition: An Asante Tale from West Africa (Dual Language) (Urdu Edition), Punjabi/English-Language Edition: An Asante Tale from West Africa, retold from an Ashanti (Asante) folktale by Jessica Souhami (again, this is my paraphrasing from memory):
Osebo the Leopard has built a huge and magnificent drum that everyone can hear. But Osebo won't permit anyone to try the drum, not even Nyame, who is Sky-God. Nyame promises that anyone who can bring Leopard's drum to him will receive a wonderful reward for teaching the leopard a lesson about his greedy, disrespectful ways. Then Nyame waits.
Python (Onini) tries to get the drum. Osebo's sharp claws and teeth, and terrible growl, scare Onini away. Elephant (Esono) tries; Osebo scares him away, too. Monkey (Asroboa) tries, using a mask to disguise himself, but Osebo scares Asroboa away, too.
Finally, Tortoise (Achi-cheri) tries to get Osebo's drum She is small and soft-shelled, and would love to wear a harder shell to protect herself. Other animals tease her because of her size, but Achi-cheri tries anyway. She tricks Leopard by telling him his drum isn't really very big, only middle-sized, but nice; she tells Osebo that Nyame's drum is the biggest she's ever seen, so big that Sky-God can climb inside it and not be seen at all.
The leopard brags that he can climb into his drum and not be seen, too. Osebo crawls inside, squeezing himself completely into the drum, which the tortoise seals with a cooking pot. Then Achi-cheri drags the huge, heavy drum to the place where Nyame waits. Nyame laughs at the lesson that the little tortoise has taught a big, bragging leopard. As a reward, Nyame gives Achi-cheri the strong, hard shell that the tortoise wears to this day.
Lyn F. 2/20/07
• There are two African drum stories in Troubadour's Story Bag: Musical Folktales of the World
by Norma Livo, Fulcrum, 1996. One - Osebo's Drum - is from Ghana and the other, The Drum, is a Bantu story from the Congo.
• Stories About Stories:
The Gift of Story, An African Folk Tale, retold by Rocci Hildum (includes Osebo the Leopard in the story)
• Osebo's Drum from Eleven Turtle Tales (American Storytelling) by Pleasant DeSpain.
I love the story Uwungelema (though I think really he's a tortoise). It's always a hit with young children. I have tortoise speak very slowly which makes kids giggle. You can find versions of it in Judy Sierra's The Flannel Board Storytelling Book and in the picture book The Name of the Tree: A Bantu Tale Retold by Celia Barker Lottridge. I think it would lend itself well to puppetry. One group I worked with did a lovely mural of the tale. Making animal masks and enacting the tale would be fun.
Renée Englot, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Note from JB: Here a version of Uwungelema as adapted by Amy Friedman and illustrated by Jillin Gilliland.
Do go to Story-Lovers and look through some of the stories. I sent an off-line post suggesting a variation of the turtle flying south because I find that school audiences know the Haitian story from one of the popular picture books. However, The Pattern on Tortoise's Back I found on a tape and in a book by Edna Mason Kaulam African Village Folktales (Audio Collection - read by Brock Peters and Diana Sands). This is story of the Bimba or Bemba / Bantu (people from the area now called Zambia.) Wonderful thing about this tape/book is that before each tale a history of the people and area are given - those are wonderful stories too.
In it Tortoise wants to visit his friend, Vulture, but he can't climb to Vulture's high home. He has his wife disguise him as a present... wrapped in huge leaves. Vulture carries the present, but Tortoise gets so excited about visiting the home that he talks just before Vulture gets to his nest. Vulture is so startled that he drops the "package," and so Tortoise has a cracked shell.
Ina V.D. 4/11/09
Uwungalema is one of my favorite puppet stories to do with children. I use a turtle puppet, animal tails, a tongue drum, and a crown for the King (or Queen, depending). One child does the drumming. It makes for excellent participation because the audience also has a part in the chant.
Granny Sue 4/11/09
web page updated 9/29/04; 3/5/06; 2/2/08; 6/12/08; 4/11/09)