This unique biographical account focuses on Henry Friston’s experiences as a Royal Navy sailor during World War I and the bond he formed with a turtle, Ali Pasha. The story is developed around the conversations between Henry and a young reporter, Trevor Roberts, during the 1950s. Henry and Trevor form a close friendship over the many days it takes for Henry to narrate his story. Foreman also includes Trevor’s account of meeting Henry and their friendship. As a young reporter for his village newspaper in Canton, England, he initially visited Henry to discover if Ali Pasha had awakened from his winter sleep, thus heralding the arrival of spring for their village.
As a young schoolboy, Henry was fascinated by maps and places he imagined, so as a young teen, he took a job on a ship, and a few years later joined the Royal Navy. The story unfolds slowly as the reporter visits Henry over time, Each time Trevor visits, Henry narrates a bit more of his Naval experiences that eventually led to the horrific battle at Gallipoli. It is there that Henry finds Ali The Turtle, as they both dodged shells and shrapnel within the trenches. Henry survives the battle and returns to his ship with Ali, who becomes a source of hope and friendship for him and his comrades.
This book gives readers a personal perspective of WWI that is blended with historical facts. Michael Foreman actually knew Henry and his son, Don, thus adding authenticity to the account. Readers can also connect with Henry through Foreman’s unique storytelling style and character development.
Henry’s accounts are printed in italics, setting them apart from the book’s narration by Trevor. Henry’s diary is printed on cream colored pages with another font style to indicate a journal entry. Throughout are small watercolor illustrations that complement the story. There are also larger double-page spreads that provide images of the various war scenarios that Henry describes. The end papers contain photographs of Henry throughout his life, often with Ali Pasha, and son, Don.
The book relates to other stories of animals in wartime, such as Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak (2013), a WWII story, The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I by Mark Greenwood (2008) and War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (2010).
An author’s note shares that Henry lived to be 83 and Ali Pasha lived another ten years after the story, making him over 100 when he died. Don cared for Ali after his father’s death. Ali Pasha became an international hero and upon his death, newspapers paid respect to “The Tortoise Veteran of Gallipoli” (p. 119).
Foreman, a Kate Greenaway Medal winner and Hans Christian Andersen nominee, is a prolific writer. His many books offer other titles to pair with The Tortoise and the Soldier for an author study. Both War Game (2006), which focuses on a well known WWI event and War Boy (1989), an autobiographical story with a WWII setting are good choices for such a study.
Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
WOW Review, Volume IX, Issue 1 by World of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/ix-1/