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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Amy and the Tortoise: How Animals Saved the Planet by John Leben is a children's picture book narrated by the titular character, a young girl named Amy, who tells us how Earth was destroyed by humans and ultimately resurrected by animals. The book begins with Amy introducing the reader to how the people of the planet live at the time of her telling. Homes are built under glass cloches with manufactured air pumped in, allowing humans to live without gas masks. Amy then recounts how this came to be, describing the methods employed by an elite group of “Technocrats” who convinced people they had solutions to survival in the face of crippling pollution, global warming, and the destruction of the Earth's natural resources. Each method employed damages the world more, until one day people are forced into the cloches and the animals work to repair the ravaged planet.
John Leben presents a striking story with Amy and the Tortoise, balancing between digital artwork and the book's narrative. The art is absolutely stunning and among the best visuals I have seen in a children's book that puts an apocalyptic way of living front and center in the eyes of its readers. Leben sugar-coats nothing and, as a parent, I am grateful for that. The Technocrats with their bald heads and Burberry-style trench coats move from one ridiculous idea to the next and we witness homes being built in nests, trees, blimps, and hot air balloons to reach clean air. The color palette is muted and the pollution is palpable, practically leaping from the page. What could possibly be more terrifying than seeing a child in a gas mask and living in a glass cage? The resolution shows exactly how the removal of humans leads to restoration and healing, leaving no doubt whatsoever that we are the problem. My daughter loved this book so much that when I came back to check on her hours after bedtime, she was reading it again for the umpteenth time. Very, very highly recommended.