Bibliographic Information (best version for telling): Roche, A. K. The Clever Turtle. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969.

Ethnic Origin: The author says that this tale was adapted from an Angolese folktale; originally from a well-know African theme. There are several variations of this story, the most famous is the story of Br'er Rabbit and the briar patch.

Running Time: 8-10 minutes

Power Center(s): The villagers suggestions to cook the turtle, the villagers suggestion to tie the turtle to a tree.

Characters: A turtle, a man, and the villagers

Scenes: corn field, village, river


A man goes out to tend his corn field and finds an empty place where the corn once stood and a turtle sunning himself on the rocks. The man captures the turtle and brings him back to his village and tells the villagers that the turtle has destroyed his corn and needs to be punished. The villagers suggest making a turtle stew of him. The turtle agrees that would be a good idea, but tell them not to throw him in the river. The villagers then suggest tying him to a tree. The turtle says that would be a good idea and again tell them not to throw him into the river. The villagers suggest putting him in a deep hole. The turtle also says that this would be a good idea and begs them not to throw him in the river. At this point the villagers become frustrated and they pick him up and carry him to the river and throw him into the deepest part. The turtle swims happily away and is never seen in the village again.

Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor":

That's exactly what to do!

I'd make a tasty turtle stew.

Do Anything you like with me.

Tie me to the strongest tree.

What is all this talk about?

Dig a hole so deep, I can't climb out.

But please, please, please, don't throw me into the river!


Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? developmental characteristics?): Children at this age would be able to identify with the turtle's cleverness and the drama building up to the villager's decision to throw the turtle into the river.

Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two):

Bell, Corydon. John Rattling-Gourd of Big Cave. New York: MacMillan Company, 1955, pp. 80-83.

Babbit, Ellen C. The Jatakas: Animal Stories.  New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1940, p. 10-12

Harris, Joel Chandler. The Favorite Uncle Remus. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948, pp. 51-54.

Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc.  Stress the differences in style rather than those of content.

"How the turtle saved his own life" (The Jatakas: Animal Stories). In this version, a king has had a lake made for his sons to play in and while playing there, they see a turtle and think it is a demon and are frightened of it. The king orders his servants to bring it to the palace to kill it. In this version, it s suggested that the turtle be killed by pounding it to powder or baking it on hot coals.

"Terrapin, Possum and Wolf" (John Rattling-Gourd of Big Cave) In this version, possum and terrapin go together to find food and they find a fruit tree. Possum scales the tree and throws down fruit to terrapin, but wolf keeps eating the fruit. Possum sees this is happening and throws down a fruit so that it will lodge in wolf's throat and kill him. When wolf is dead, terrapin cuts off his ears to use as spoons. The rest of the wolfs find out about this and think terrapin killed wolf, so they capture him and plan to kill him. An interesting twist to this variation is that it explains why the terrapin's shell has seam marks: it was broken when he was thrown into the river and when he stitched it back together the seam marks remained.

"The Briar Patch" (The Favorite Uncle Remus). In this version , Brer Rabbit is caught by Brer Fox with the Tar baby and Brer Fox decides to kill Brer Rabbit. Brer Fox suggests a number of different ways to kill Brer Rabbit who keeps telling him not to fling him in the briar patch. Brer Fox finally decides to do this and Brer Rabbit gets away.