Bibliography: Bryan, Ashley. Turtle Knows Your Name. New York, New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1989. ISBN-13: 978-0689315787.
Plot Summary: In an island village, a little boy is raised by his grandmother, who teaches him how to say his name. He learns to say that he is named Upsilimana Tumpalerado. The grandmother celebrates by dancing with him by the sea where a turtle learns it as well as the boy sings, “Upsilimana Tumpalerado/That’s my name/I took my time to learn it/ Won’t you do the same?” Unfortunately, the little boy’s friends will not remember his name. They call him Long Name without asking. His grandmother always reminds him to teach his name to others, stating, “… Remember, your name is long, but it’s not the longest.” The boy eventually meets the turtle who sings, “Upsilimana Tumpalerado/ I’m so glad you came/ Upsilimana Tumpalerado/ Turtle knows your name.” The boy asks how the turtle learned it, but the turtle swims away. When the boy returns home for dinner, his grandmother challenges him to tell her what her real name is if he wants dessert. She will not take “Granny” as an adequate answer. She tells him, “There are grannies all over the village. Every granny has a name…” The boy sets out for the rest of the story to find out what is her real name is. He looks to see who can help him. It is Turtle who reveals to him that Granny’s real name is Mapaseedo Jackalindy Eye Pie Tackarindy. He gets his dessert. Granny finds out who it is that revealed her name. At the end, Granny and the boy agree to give each other nicknames, affirm that they love their long names and each other.
Critical Analysis: This books carries a situation that many children go through, especially immigrants and children of color, where people will not want to practice saying their name if it is not one they are used to. They will even give them nicknames without their permission. His grandmother also reminds him when he goes out to “…teach your name to your playmates and do your best. Remember, your name is long, but it’s not the longest.” The boy gets frustrated that his playmates will not remember what he is called, so he decides to one day spend time with the animals. This is definitely a book to read to children, while singing certain lines and dancing to certain parts. The book is rife with rhythm and rhymes and even some onomatopoeia, such as when the boy travels and whistles “twee-twaa-twee.” When his grandmother serves dinner, they sing “Fungi rolled in a bowl/Till it’s round as a ball/ And as yellow as gold/ Is the best of all.” Ashley Bryan lovingly depicts the Caribbean world his story takes place in by depicting it all in pastels and bold lines, with different skin tones for all its villagers, giving almost a rainbow effect. Ultimately, this is a happy book with happy illustrations.
Review Excerpt and Awards won:
No awards are applied to this book, but the author has received many awards in his career, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (2009) and the Virginia Hamilton Award (2012), which are two American Library Association career literary awards.
Following excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews, posted online on October 26, 2011 and originally written September 15, 1989: “Full of dancing rhythms and mild humor, the story’s message about the value of the inner lives of those we take for granted is quietly understated. Bryan’s lovely paintings, in light, bright island colors, swirl with joyous patterns; Granny and her boy are full of love and life. Fine for reading, telling, and sharing…”
Connections: This book will be a great way to teach children the importance of respecting other people’s names, especially by asking for permission if they want to be called by a nickname like Upsulimana Tumpalerado and his grandmother do at the end. It teaches them that names are a way for people to say who they are. Have the children write out their own names in big, block text and have them draw art within the letters that best represent who they are. For example, my name is Alison and I will draw cats in the letter A because I love cats. Another thing that can be done with this book is teaching children about the different foods that are mentioned in the text. Many children possibly do not know what plantains are, or what cornmeal coucou (called Fungi in the book is) and you can facilitate a conversation where children discuss what dishes represent their own cultures. Lastly, another connection for this book can be children learning how to create family trees. Upsulimana Tumpalerado learns that his grandmother was not always named Granny. Have the children learn what their parents/grandparents/guardians are named and make a family tree out of that.