Zonk, the Dreaming Tortoise by David Hoobler
Zonk is a Sonoran Desert tortoise but he wants to be a sea turtle. Hiking with his friends, Bunny, Snake and Coyote, he sees a rock with a picture of a sea turtle painted on it. “Look a flying turtle,” Zonk shouts. Then Coyote (who knows everything) explains, “It’s a sea turtle. They live in the ocean and there is water everywhere.” Everyone laughed. Water everywhere! But to Zonk, locked in his heavy shell, floating on a cool quiet ocean sounds like a dream come true.
A dreamer and explorer at heart, Zonk tries to enlist the help of his friends and family. But they don’t understand his obsession and tell him it’s a silly notion. Even his mother and father think the idea of water everywhere is just a myth, a waste of time. But Zonk has faith. With the help of the Ancient Spirit of the Saguaro, monsoon rain, and a flash flood, Zonk makes his way to the ocean and becomes a “sea tortoise”.
David Hoobler is both the author and the illustrator of Zonk, the Dreaming Tortoise, as well as Zonk and the Secret Lagoon and Zonk and the Gray Whales’ Birthday Party.
According to his author bio, David was inspired by the Sonoran Desert when he lived in Arizona, and he wrote Zonk, the Dreaming Tortoise as a exercise for a screenwriter he apprenticed for. David does not have any formal training in painting, but he decided to illustrate his books with watercolor.
David’s illustrations are bright, vibrant, and whimsical. Zonk the tortoise has an elaborate, beautiful green, red, blue, yellow shell. In the story he dreams of swimming in the ocean, and the watercolors really add to the story.
And David’s love of the Sonoran Desert really shines through, with his colorful depictions of cactus and sand and other animals that live in the desert.
Zonk the tortoise is also a really likeable character, and easy to relate to. As soon as he learns there are animals that can swim, he dreams about what it would be like. He thinks he would feel as “light as a feather.”
But poor Zonk. His friends Coyote, Bunny, and Snake do not believe he can swim, or even find water to swim in, and his parents think it is silly that there is a place where water is everywhere.
Plus, where will he find food to eat? How can he even find the ocean? And how will he learn to swim?
Zonk does everything he can think of to make his dream come true, but nothing works.
*Potential spoiler alert
Finally, Zonk reaches out to the Spirit of the Saguaro, who lives in the skeleton of the oldest cactus. Zonk asks the Spirit of Saguaro for answers on how he can find the ocean.
The Spirit of Saguaro only speaks Spanish, and so Zonk must ask his question in Spanish. The way David depicts this is so lovely and simple, and makes it easy for anyone who does not know Spanish to learn what is said.
The Spirit of Saguaro tells Zonk, “We only know what we know,” or “No más sabemos lo que sabemos.”
David also complements his illustrations with beautiful descriptions. One of my favorite lines comes after Zonk leaves the Spirit of Saguaro:
“She spoke to the wind that whistled through her bones.”
The Spirit of Saguaro makes a monsoon come to the desert, which creates a flash flood for Zonk. Zonk gets caught up for a moment, and then starts to swim. And it is everything he imagined it would be. Zonk even makes new friends and heads on to his next adventure.
Overall, Zonk, the Dreaming Tortoise is a beautifully constructed book. Kids and adults would probably appreciate the vivid imagery and the imaginative story that goes along with it.
I’m sure David’s other books in the series, Zonk and the Secret Lagoon and Zonk and the Gray Whales’ Birthday Party are just as beautiful and fun to read.
Genre: Picture book
Length: 32 pages