7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #780: Featuring Yong Ling Kang

h1 January 30th, 2022 by jules


There are lots of picture books about death and lots about the death of a pet, but please make way for this one — Rodney Was a Tortoise (Tundra, February 2022), written by Nan Forler and illustrated by Yong Ling Kang. Because it is honest in every way and conveys tremendous respect for children.

“Day after day, year after year, Rodney was there, loyal and true.” Rodney is Bernadette’s very old pet tortoise. They play games together (even if Bernadette must regularly take Rodney’s turns); have staring contests; play dress-up together; have snacks together; and share stories. They always have fun together: Bernadette is just sure that she can sometimes catch Rodney smiling. (Mind you, he is never anthropomorphized, though Yong Ling Kang may give him a slight smile or two.) It is clear that Bernadette loves him very much.

Unfortunately, Rodney slows down — to the point where he stops moving. Bernadette watches him closely, patiently waiting. In one poignant turn, Bernadette blatantly denies that he could be sick (or worse), telling her mother that he might merely be holding his breath: “He’s such a joker.” But her mother doesn’t mince words, telling her she thinks Rodney is dead, a beautifully illustrated moment that is pictured below. At his backyard funeral, Bernadette and her mother share what they learned from Rodney: “Be a pal. Slow down. Chew your food. Enjoy each piece of lettuce.”

This marks the midpoint of the book, one that marks Bernadette’s grief. Forler succinctly captures what it’s like to experience such an abrupt loss: All Bernadette can think about, we read, is RODNEY, RODNEY, RODNEY. She’s also angry that students at school aren’t talking about him, even whispering the fact of his death to herself (though no one else hears her). Don’t they know how radically her life has been altered? She still reads stories nightly, directed right at his tank, though he’s no longer in it. She feels a “hurt deep down in her stomach.” But she keeps up with her daily routines, Forler likening her to a tortoise in her own “protective shell” and the illustrator depicting her closed off and hunched over in her green hooded jacket. She is lost in her sorrow, Forler writing that “all of Bernadette seemed to have disappeared.” When a classmate approaches her and speaks of Rodney (“I remember when you brought him to school for Pet Day”), also compassionately acknowledging her pain, things shift dramatically for Bernadette. Her new friend shares his own loss: “I used to have a budgie named Samuel.”

At the core of his emotionally compelling tale is Forler’s reverence for the inner lives of children and the intense feelings that accommodate such loss. I love that the very title, with its plainspoken paste-tense verb, makes it clear that we’ll be reading about loss, as if to prepare us. I love that Bernadette’s mother doesn’t spin some euphemism for the death of her daughter’s pet: “I think Rodney is dead,” she says truthfully. I love the cover, how it captures the devotion a child can have for a pet. (No multi-tasking. Just sitting and petting the tortoise!) And I love that this story of loss is filled with humor. There are some very funny moments of time Bernadette and Rodney spend together (my favorite being when Bernadette throws her head back in laughter during a staring contest at the kitchen table). It is, as the Publisher’s Weekly review puts it, a story that “balances mourning and remembrance.” (Oh, and I love the tortoise-shell endpapers.)

Below are some of Yong Ling Kang’s warmly colored watercolor illustrations. You may remember her art featured here last year at 7-Imp.



Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety


“When Bernadette dressed up as queen of the castle, she made a tiny crown for Rodney. It took almost all day for Rodney to look up, but she could tell he loved it.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“Each night, Bernadette stared into the tank as she fell asleep.
Rodney was there, snug on his rock. ‘You’re a real old pal, Rodney,’ she’d say.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“‘Maybe he’s just holding his breath to be funny,’ Bernadette suggested.
‘He’s such a joker.’ Bernadette,’ said her mother, ‘I think Rodney is dead.'”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“She crawled deeper and deeper into her shell until all of Bernadatee seemed to have disappeared. RODNEY, RODNEY, RODNEY. It was Amar who spotted Bernadette,
tucked away in her green coat. He came and sat on the rock beside her.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


RODNEY WAS A TORTOISE. Text copyright © 2022 by Nan Forler. Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Yong Ling Kang and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) Big ol’ snowflakes on Friday.

2) When two of my favorite songs showed up on random song shuffles two different days this week …



(I have always loved the line “I tried but can’t find refuge in the angle / I’ll walk the mystery of the curve.”)


3) and …



4) A bubble bath on a cold day.

5) Pies.

6) Isn’t this brand-new tune fabulous?



7) The ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday and, in particular, these beautiful Caldecott winners:







What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #780: Featuring Yong Ling Kang”

  1. Hi Imps! Hello, Yong Ling Kang and Rodney and Bernadette. That book would destroy me.

    Kicks from the past week:
    1) Fresh bread
    2) Kindness
    3) Patterns
    4) Colors
    5) Good sense
    6) Videos
    7) Water

  2. When I was teaching, there were never enough books about dealing with the death of a beloved pet. I’m so glad to see Rodney and Bernadette.

    Jules, snow and great award winners plus a bubble bath, what a week.
    Little Willow, love kindness and colors.

    My kicks:
    1. A quick trip up beyond Seattle for a bday party for a friend last weekend.
    2. Time to make an altered book.
    3. Receiving an altered book in the mail.
    4. Sunrises.
    5. Moonsets.
    6. Plotting where to stay in Scotland.
    7. Starting another trip around the sun with bday yesterday.
    Have a great week.

  3. What a wonderful book, and I especially appreciate how honest it is, that illustration with Bernadette and her mother when her mother tells her Rodney is dead conveys so much.

    Jules – yay for snow, pies, bubble baths and good music!

    Little Willow – fresh bread, water and kindness are my favorites of your kicks this week.

    Jone – what a fun birthday week! Happy birthday and hooray for altered books, trips to Seattle and planning future trips.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Sunday morning snuggles with Daisy.
    2) A phone call catch up with a former client who is doing well.
    3) Time spent with Shing Yin Khor’s keepsake memory game Remember August. The playlist is a good one for writing and/or working.
    4) Started watching Station Eleven.
    5) Having lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in months later today.
    6) Letters from pen pals, plus surprise package of coffee. (My pen pals know me well.)
    7) A facetime call from my nephew and hearing about how he’s such a good big brother to his two younger brothers.
    7.5) Walks with Daisy in the glorious sunshine this we’ve had this past week.

    Have a great week Imps!

  4. Little Willow: Mmm, bread.

    Jone; Happy birthday again! When are you going to Scotland?

    Rachel: Are you liking Station Eleven? I’m loving it so far. What a rich week you had with friends and family. Love that second kick. Hello to Daisy!

    Have a good week, you all!

  5. Jules – I am liking Station Eleven so far. My two favorite episodes have been Hurricane (episode 3), and Goodbye My Damaged Home (episode 7). Danielle Deadwiler is so so good. And I’ve loved Mackenzie Davis since Halt and Catch Fire. And the kids playing Kirsten and The Prophet are so great too. The fluidity between past and present is interesting.

  6. You’re farther ahead than we are! I like Davis too. And her facial expressions (and face) remind me of my oldest daughter’s.

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