Puteri Tioman is a green turtle returning to Tioman Island off the coast of Malaysia to lay her eggs. This picture book is the story of her life cycle and the dangers she faces at every stage of her journey.
I haven’t ventured much into the realms of non-fiction on this picture book journey, so I leapt at the chance to read this title about a green turtle from Tioman Island. I’ve always loved learning about the natural world. I’m sure all those wonderful David Attenborough documentaries I watched when I was growing up have something to do with it.
Puteri Tioman starts with a short introduction to the green turtle of the same name, accompanied by a luminous illustration of her swimming right out of the page towards us. But this is not just a story about one green turtle, but many. As we follow Puteri’s journey, we learn about the life cycle of the green turtle in general, from egg laying through infancy and growth to adulthood.
And along the way, Rossiti Aishah Rashidi weaves in a wealth of factual information about green turtles in terms that most readers would understand. So we learn that an adult turtle is “about as heavy as two adult men”; that turtle eggs are about the size of ping pong balls, and soft and tough like leather; and that turtles can lay a staggering 115 eggs in one birth. Just as fascinating is the focus on turtle flippers throughout the narrative. Turtles use them to paddle and steer themselves through the water, to drag their heavy bodies ashore and dig in the sand. For those after more information, there are additional sections at the end of the book about sea turtles and what we can do to protect them, as well as general environmental guidelines.
The illustrations are a beautiful match for the text: in one image Farrah Ashiela Samsuri shows a turtle swimming through the water, giant flippers outstretched as if she is in flight. The attention to detail – shape, texture, colour and shadow – is almost photographic. I also love the illustration where the baby turtles hatch from their eggs, little heads and flippers appearing through the eggshells as the little creatures break their way out with their beaks. It is a wonderful celebration of nature and new life.
At the same time, however, this picture book does not shy away from presenting the threats faced by green turtles, and the consequences of these threats. We learn about their natural predators: birds or monitor lizards on the lookout for newly-hatched turtles for a quick meal. And the turtles’ “biggest enemy”: people; people who search for turtle eggs on the beach at nightfall; who pollute the oceans with oil and chemicals and plastic bags, which turtles mistake for jellyfish and choke on; and whose lights and fires attract baby turtles away from the sea towards the dangerous urban sprawl. The message is clear: we humans have a lot to answer for.
The author/illustrator team do much more than simply raise awareness about green turtles, their life cycle and their plight, however. As Puteri Tioman makes her way home to lay her own eggs, Rossiti Aishah Rashidi sounds the alarm for the present and future of the species, ending with a rousing call to action: “Let’s protect the turtle’s habitat.”
Puteri Tioman: The Green Turtle is a magnificent, informative introduction to the life cycle of green turtles from eggs through to adulthood. It also provides valuable insights into the many threats faced by these extraordinary creatures and strong encouragement to act now to protect them from extinction.
Puteri Tioman: The Green Turtle by Rossiti Aishah Rashidi, illustrated by Farrah Ashiela Samsuri (Oyez!Books, 2011; this edition, 2016)
Datin Rossiti Aishah Rashidi is a homemaker, mother and keen conservationist. She has written one other book for children, Manja the Orangutan, and is currently working on her next title about elephants. She lives with her husband and five children in Selangor, Malaysia.
Farrah Ashiela Samsuri graduated with a degree in Architecture from UiTM in Malaysia and currently works as an architect. She enjoys nature and sketching and also illustrated Datin Rossiti’s first children’s book Manja the Orangutan.