Jennifer’s tortoise tale a true story

Jennifer Beck. Times photo Laura Brookes

She’s one of two local authors nominated in the 2017 Children and Young Adults Book Awards, and Jennifer Beck is taking it all in her stride.

It’s an honour just to be shortlisted as a finalist in the Elsie Locke Award for Non Fiction, said the long-time Botany resident – clearly downplaying the fact that she’s won (and been a finalist in) many competitions prior to this.

She’s written somewhere between 50 and 60 books altogether, estimated Jennifer, as well as newspaper articles and educational readers.

In 2010, Jennifer represented New Zealand at the International Children’s Book Festival.
Five years later, she was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Children’s Literature, and took up the position of Children’s Writer in Residence at Otago University.

She’s an outstanding author with a knack for taking a story and turning it into something greater, but writing wasn’t always her first choice career plan.

In her younger years, Jennifer completed a university degree in psychology, and worked in educational psychology for a number of years.

“I was a late starter when it comes to writing,” Jennifer admits.

“It wasn’t a definite plan – I just loved creating pictures and stories, especially when I had my own children and could make books for them. It is the combination of art and words that are special to me. That is why I love writing picture books.”

Now, she’s been doing it for almost 30 years, and can’t imagine the day she’ll give up her precious creative outlet.

Most of her books are inspired by everyday happenings, people she looks up to and topics that interest her – particularly those with a New Zealand background.

That’s what makes her newest book so fascinating.

It’s a true story about New Zealand’s oldest survivor of World War I – a tortoise.

Illustrated by Fifi Colston and with special mention to Barbara of Howick’s Readaway Books, Torty and the Soldier tells the story of Kiwi soldier Stewart Little, who worked as a medical orderly in World War I.

Near a bombed hospital in Greece, Mr Little happened across an injured tortoise, carried it to safety, nursed it back to full health and affectionately named it Torty.

Three generations after Mr Little died, Torty lives on in Palmerston North at an estimated age of 200 and is being looked after by Mr Little’s grandsons.

In fact, Torty even made it to the Morrinsville book launch of Torty and the Soldier – and no doubt when the Wellington awards ceremony rocks around this August, Jennifer will be waiting on the judges to call her name.

  • The Times has a copy of Torty and the Soldier to give away. Enter here