In Pam Stone’s picture book, Oscar’s Adventures in the Woods, a pet turtle who dreams of adventure soon gets his wish—and more than he initially thinks he can handle.
Oscar is happy living in a terrarium and regularly being fed raw hamburger by a kind girl who looks after him. However, he sometimes wonders what it would be like to be as free as the cat who visits him. Then one day the girl brings Oscar outside while she cleans his terrarium and he wanders off. Oscar becomes lost and meanders for several weeks, learning how to fend for himself but hoping the girl will find him and bring him home.
He hibernates through the winter and, once he awakens, makes it all the way home. But when the girl asks her father if she can bring him inside, her father suggests Oscar will be happier living on his own in the wide world, so the girl lets him go. Every year, Oscar comes to visit, but eventually moves on and starts a family of his own.
Eric Hector and Candace Schinzler-Bell’s colorful, expressive illustrations prominently featuring Oscar bring the narrative to life and are sure to engage youngsters.
Unfortunately, however, the story’s message is muddled. Originally, this seems like an adventure in which the protagonist learns that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But Oscar’s unperturbed reaction when the girl turns him away complicates the picture. Does he realize that his independence is more important than comfort? Or that one has to be flexible and adjust to life’s surprises? There’s no clear moral. Sharper character development around Oscar’s emotional state would improve the book’s resonance.
Young readers might enjoy Stone’s bittersweet tale about Oscar, largely due to his engaging depiction in illustrations. But a less confusing message is needed to make the tale truly shine.