Tortuga Squad – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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What a great way to celebrate the UN’s World Wildlife Day, than to introduce the second book in this series about children caring for animals.

28282449Title: Tortuga Squad-Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Written and photos by: Cathleen Burnham

Additional photos by: Kenyon Burnham and Bay Burnham

Published by: Crickhollow and Crispin Books, April 2016

Nonfiction – 32 pages

Themes/Topics: turtles, baby animals, environmental conservation, Costa Rica, global kids, youth activism, wild animal rescue, endangered species, poaching

Suitable for ages: 7 -11

Opening Text (comes after some pages illustrating the location of South America and the Costa Rican island in particular):

The mother turtle swam through the surf and then dragged herself onto the black sand beach of Parismina Island, Costa Rica. She lumbered across the sand. She stopped where the palm trees and tall dune grasses begin to grow. With her hind flippers, she dug a deep hole. Into the hole she dropped leathery, white eggs-over 80 of them!


Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rice is a photodocumentary book by journalist and writer Cathleen Burnham.

It’s an inspiring real-life story of a band of village kids on the island of Parismina off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica who help with local sea turtle conservation efforts. This is narrative non-fiction and the story focuses on one young girl, six-year old Bianca who in the opening pages witnesses an infamous local poacher upturning a mother turtle to later retrieve for his dinner and stealing all her 80 eggs to sell on the market. A several hundred pound turtle is too heavy for Bianca to save herself so she runs for help from the rest of the kids in the Tortuga squad. They save the mama turtle but sadly can do nothing about the theft of the eggs.

Later on their way by river to market they save an endangered howler monkey from drowning. The narrative explores the activities of the kids of the Tortuga squad and their daily activities with the help of some adults, even ex-poachers, to protect several endangered turtle species. This includes beach patrols, nurseries for the eggs and eventually ensuring the new hatchlings make it safely to the ocean.

Why I like This Book:

This is the second second in Burnham’s WAKA (World Association of Kids and Animals) series of books for young readers that feature kids around the world involved in wild animal rescue and conservation projects. As with the first book, the emphasis is on genuine on the ground projects run by or involving kids. Too often Westerners forget that people indigenous to areas where endangered species live are not only doing the poaching or destroying the environment, many are involved in effective conversation projects using local resources. These resources of course involve children, and what better way to encourage other kids to be involved than to read and see the stories of children their age making a difference. Even if you are six!

I appreciate that the author doesn’t gloss over the realities of the conservation efforts. The 80 eggs stolen at the beginning of the book are not retrieved, but many hatchlings are at the end. As with the first book, readers are given insights into what a challenge it is to overcome possibly generations of local action and attitudes in protecting these species and raising awareness.

Both books and their teachers’ guides should be a very welcome addition to classroom units on endangered species.


  • You can read about the first book and rescuing orphaned monkeys in Peru, here.
  • There is an author’s note at the back of the book giving more details about the turtles’ situation and how children can become involved.
  • WAKA stands for World Association of Kids and Animals. It’s a way to share all these stories of kids – young people not so different from you and your friends – who found a way to get involved and help protect wild animals. What a great start to this new series.
  • For more on this series of six forthcoming titles on global kids involved in wild animal conservation, visit: . And for the teacher’s guide for Doyli to the Rescue, and Tortuga Squad, you can find them here on author/educator, Marcie Colleen’s website or the Waka site.
  • Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots is also another great way for children to become involve din conservation.
  • There’s a Book for That compiled a great list of endangered species picture books last year.
  • 2016 theme is “The future of wildlife is in our hands”, with African and Asian elephants being the main focus of global campaigns.The theme “The future of wildlife is in our hands” reinforces the inextricable link between wildlife, people and sustainable development. It is the responsibility of each generation to safeguard wildlife for the following generation. It also imparts the pressing need for national action to ensure the survival in the wild of both charismatic and lesser known species. Discuss with your students/children what they can do to make a difference.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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24 Responses to Tortuga Squad – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. The Tortuga Squad is such an important book to show kids how they can make a difference. Kids today are more sensitive than ever to environmental conservation. Cathleen Burnham has a great thing going with this series. Her photographs are spectacular. Great choice — and I know how passionate you are about sea turtles.(We almost reviewed the same book today. Will hold my review for later.)

  2. I’ve always had a soft spot for wildlife rescue and conservation stories. I am amazed at what 6-year-old Bianca and her friends accomplish. This is a story I’d like to share with my daughter. Thank you for posting it.

    • Joanna says:

      I think you can’t start too young, sharing our human responsibility for this planet!

    • Cathleen Burnham says:

      Hi, Leslie, I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. I, too, just love hearing about humans saving animals in trouble. Thanks, again!

  3. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    This does sound like an inspiring book for kids. I know that I struggle to feel like I’m making any kind of a difference in this world, so it’s even inspiring for me! Thanks for highlighting!

    • Joanna says:

      Yes, it is good to reminded that even a small contribution can make a difference!

    • Cathleen Burnham says:

      Gosh, Julianne, I know what you mean. The plight of wildlife is a sad story. I have to say, though, that I have met so many people that care about animals during my travels, whether they are Masai tribesmen keeping track of wild dogs for scientists or for eco tourism within their country, or young people in Cornwall, England spending their lives rescuing and rehabilitating baby seals for very little salary. I think many, many people want to be involved in preserving wildlife and it’s my hope that my books and articles will help point the way a little bit.

  4. Wendy Greenley says:

    Kids like Bianca warm my heart and provide hope for the future.

    • Joanna says:

      It’s good to read good news stories, right?!

    • Cathleen Burnham says:

      I think so, too, Wendy! These little “unsung heroes” work mighty hard for animals. I am always moved when I meet them. But, I’ll tell you, they are always having the time of their lives doing it! Animals are fun!

  5. I love the idea of Tortuga Squad! It’s the closest thing to being a super-hero a kid can get, and these kids bring about real & positive results. Yay for them – and yay for introducing them to us!

    • Joanna says:

      I bet they get so much out of this conservation activity and heart!

    • Cathleen Burnham says:

      Oh, gosh, Sue, I think so too! When I meet these people, I am always skeptical, thinking, “what is their angle REALLY?”, and then as I spend weeks and sometimes months with them, I realize there are some really good, good people walking this earth.

  6. Sue is right – lil’ super-heroes!

  7. What a fascinating way for kids to learn about the world. We have a good friend from Costa Rica, and I think my children would be fascinated to learn about Costa Rica and the tortugas, especially from a child’s perspective.

    • Joanna says:

      I love Costa Rica and they are actually often a very eco-friencly nation, so I was glad to read about this.

    • Cathleen Burnham says:

      That’s really great. And, if your friend in Costa Rica would ever like to visit the turtle beach, I can certainly point the way!

  8. Erik-TKRB says:

    Oh my I need to get this book! I follow turtle saving organizations. Awesome that kids are involved in saving the turtles!

    • Joanna says:

      That’s cool, I didn’t know that Erik!

    • Cathleen Burnham says:

      Erik, I’m so glad to hear you care so much about turtle conservation! Yeah, I think that kids care very, very much about animals from a young age and I hope to keep that caring going into their adulthoods through books and articles.

  9. Cathleen Burnham says:

    Hi, Joanna. My publisher at Crickhollow Books just brought to my attention the lovely review you wrote for my books. Thank you so very much. I especially loved the thought, “Too often Westerners forget that people indigenous to areas where endangered species live are not only doing the poaching or destroying the environment, many are involved in effective conversation projects using local resources.” That’s so insightful and something that is not often recognized. But, I am just really appreciative and touched that you wrote that lovely review!!

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