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Sunny Boy!: The Life and Times of a Tortoise

Sunny Boy!: The Life and Times of a Tortoise

by Candace Fleming, Anne Wilsdorf (Illustrator)

I have always longed for the quiet life. So begins Sunny Boy’s tale. As a young tortoise, he enjoys a peaceful life – inhaling the sweet smell of orchids, reciting Latin, licking stamps – year after quiet year. But fate twists, and our hero falls into the hands of Biff the Brave, an accident-prone performer of daredevil deeds. When Biff


I have always longed for the quiet life. So begins Sunny Boy’s tale. As a young tortoise, he enjoys a peaceful life – inhaling the sweet smell of orchids, reciting Latin, licking stamps – year after quiet year. But fate twists, and our hero falls into the hands of Biff the Brave, an accident-prone performer of daredevil deeds. When Biff attempts his most dangerous stunt – going over Niagara Falls in a barrel – the shy and retiring Sunny Boy is suddenly swept into history’s limelight. This wild, funny tale is based on the story of an actual tortoise who went over the falls. Exuberant watercolors full of witty details add to this celebration of the adventurous spirit that resides in us all.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
Fleming (Gator Gumbo) embellishes the true story of a 1930 stunt in this picaresque tale, told by a tortoise. "I have always longed for the quiet life," begins Sunny Boy, who careens from one adventure to the next. Originally slated to become turtle soup, Sunny Boy is rescued by a horticulturist who "sang to his orchids while I basked in the blossom-sweet sunlight.... Year after quiet year. But alas! Men do not live as long as tortoises." Sunny Boy trails a 19th-century funeral parade, and in quick succession he goes to live with a stamp collector, with a Latin scholar and, against his better judgment, with "Biff the brave! Daredevil extraordinaire!" As a 20th-century stuntman's pet, slow-moving Sunny Boy gapes at high-speed mishaps. In comic watercolors, Wilsdorf (Alligator Sue) pictures him seated stiffly in Biff's motorcycle sidecar and visiting Biff in the hospital. Bruised but unbowed, Biff makes plans to chute Niagara Falls in a barrel, with his favorite reptile for company ("I shuddered in my shell," says the tortoise). Fleming reveals her story's inspiration in an afterword: "The real Sunny Boy was one hundred years old when he made this perilous trip" with George Stathakis. She gives happy endings to both Sunny Boy and Biff, but in actuality the tortoise was the sole survivor. Like Rachel Field's Hitty the doll, Sunny Boy has staying power and an engaging disposition, and ultimately he finds his placid, well-deserved bliss. Ages 5-8. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Tortoises live a long time, so many adventures are possible. But even as a hatchling our tortoise hero embraces a quiet life. Shipped to the soup pots of New York, he luckily lands instead in the lap of Pelonius Pimplewhite, a horticulturalist, who names him Sunny Boy. Outliving his owner, Sunny boy lives first with stamp-collecting Cornelius, and then with Latin Scholar, Augustus. Both offer the quiet life he enjoys. But then he goes to live with daredevil Biff, and his life changes. Biff barely survives being shot from a canon, walking on an airplane wing, and racing through fire. When he plans to go over Niagara Falls, Sunny Boy flees to Knott's Niagara Museum. There he encounters a young girl named Euphemia, who happens to love orchids, stamps, and Latin. After Biff drags him over the Falls, Sunny Boy is happy to be left with Euphemia most of the time, enjoying the quiet life of his past, while Biff faces further adventures. Wilsdorf's colored drawings tell the visual tale with so many comic details that the flow of events moves tortoise slowly. For example, the double-page peek into the museum displays an amazing variety of intriguing exhibits to tease the eye. There is a vitality to the pictures that matches Biff's exploring compulsions. A final page gives the facts about those who really have gone over the Falls, including the Sunny Boy who inspired the story. The information is enhanced by the end-papers, the front having a portrait gallery of survivors of the Falls, and the back showing the contraptions they rode. 2005, Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 5 to 8.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-Inspired by an actual event, this saga makes for wildly entertaining reading. Sunny Boy is a self-described placid personality who longs "-for the quiet life." Fate unkindly snatches the young tortoise from his peaceable kingdom for the nefarious purpose of sending him "-bound for the soup pots of New York City's finest restaurants!" A funny thing happens, though, on the way to his demise, when he is ejected from his carrying box onto the table of an unsuspecting diner at a sidewalk caf . Thus begins the terrapin's long association with the male line of the gentleman's family. Because of Sunny Boy's great longevity, he lives with his savior for a time and then is passed down to three generations of nephews, finally landing with Biff the brave. Unlike his predecessors, Biff is an adventurer and a daredevil. With extreme trepidation, the tortoise becomes involved with the fellow's perilous pursuits, ending with a stunt involving a barrel and Niagara Falls. All's well that ends well as Sunny Boy discovers the fascination of an occasional walk on the wild side when balanced with calmer pastimes. This rollicking romp represents a wonderful marriage of text and illustration. The comical cartoon narrative, somewhat reminiscent of Quentin Blake's work, enhances the textual flow of the story. Not to be missed is the author's fascinating historical note describing the basis for this somewhat tall tale. Wacky and sure to elicit a giggle, this one is a winner.-Rosalyn Pierini, San Luis Obispo City-County Library, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A century in the keeping of one sedate owner after another leaves a small tortoise utterly unprepared for life with a reckless daredevil. In a captivating memoir, Sunny Boy fondly recalls quiet years with a gardener, a stamp collector and a Latin scholar-followed by a decidedly upsetting stint with Biff, an enthusiast who embarks on a string of failed stunts, then resolves to take a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel with, unfortunately, his trusty tortoise by his side. Telling the tale in an evocatively deliberate voice-"My world tipped. Now, instead of basking in the bright sunlight, I bounced and jostled about in Biff's dank sidecar"-that brings out his character with the same clarity that the small, anxious-looking figure, cast into various perilous situations in Wilsdorf's exuberantly drawn cartoons, does, Sunny Boy makes an engaging narrator indeed-particularly after the Niagara triumph actually leaves him with a taste for adventure, so long as it's only occasional. Loosely based on a true episode that didn't have such a happy ending (only the tortoise survived), this will delight both active and armchair daredevils. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-9)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
9.12(w) x 11.28(h) x 0.42(d)
AD480L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Candace Fleming’s award-winning picture books include Boxes for Katje, a Publishers Weekly Best Book. She lives near Chicago, Illinois.

Anne Wilsdor's charming pictures can be found in Alligator Sue by Sharon Arms Doucet. She lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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