Bedtime story to comfort a girl bullied for owning a black doll inspires new children's book

Author Cynthia Reyes created the bedtime story Myrtle the Purple Turtle 28 years ago to comfort her daughter, and re-instill her self-image after she was bullied for taking a black doll to school.

Myrtle The Purple Turtle is the creation of author Cynthia Reyes, who first told the story 28 years ago

Cynthia Reyes came up with the story of Myrtle the Purple Turtle almost 30 years ago and now it's a children's book. ( Cynthia Reyes & illustrated by Jo Robinson/ Toronto Star)

Myrtle the Purple Turtle, a story about a colourful turtle picked on for being different, is a new children's book, but Cynthia Reyes conjured up the bedtime story 28 years ago in response to an experience her four-year-old daughter had at school.

Both mother and daughter were on CBC's Metro Morning on Monday to share the the story behind the book.

Lauren Reyes-Grange recalled her first memory of being in school with her best friend at the time that Quentin, a Cabbage Patch doll who was black, came on the market.

"A group of children said they didn't want to play with me if I had Quentin with me because Quentin was dirty," she said. 

The experience would prove to be a defining moment in her childhood.

"I knew I looked different from the other kids in the class," Reyes-Grange said, "but I never really thought that much about it until that day."

After that she refused to take Quentin to school. Her parents took notice and asked her why, and Cynthia Reyes said she was surprised by what she heard.

"It was painful. We had deliberately done a number of things to make our kids feel proud in being who they are and in being black." 

Reyes came up with the idea for a bedtime story to comfort her daughter and Myrtle the Purple Turtle was born. 

"Myrtle is a young turtle who has never thought anything of the fact that she's purple until another turtle bumps into her and refuses to believe that she's even a turtle because she's purple," she said. 

Myrtle goes on a journey, at first trying to change herself to fit in, but then comes to accept herself.

"I didn't want to force her to bring Quentin to school but I wanted to instill pride and reinstill her self-image as a black child," Reyes said of her daughter.

Reyes-Grange still remembers her mother first telling her the story.

"It was kind of going from a very low point to suddenly there was a story written for me —it was a gift just for me," she said.

And it did the trick because sometime later she made a special request for Christmas  She asked her parents for a PJ Sparkles doll and insisted that it had to be black.

"I think that Myrtle had so much to do with that," Reyes-Grange said.

That lesson of embracing differences is now being shared in the book with other families. 

"It's starting conversations with parents and their kids about differences. I think it probably did the same thing for me and my family where we were able to kind of have that conversation," Reyes-Grange said.


Makda Ghebreslassie

CBC Toronto reporter

Makda is a CBC Video-Journalist, who from time to time fills in as TV news anchor and a newsreader on Here and Now and Fresh Air. She worked in newsrooms in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor before moving back home to Toronto.