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Literacy grant brings local authors to Bristol Elementary

Authors and artists Jim and Brad Tonner of Twin Designs Gift Shop led an assembly at Bristol Elementary School last week where they read their newest book, "Happy Birthday Diane the Turtle." Joining them after the presentation were second grade students Vander, Cylus and Chase, Officer Chris Carter of Bristol Police Department, Jim Tonner, the Twin Designs Dancing Turtle, Brad Tonner, Lt. Kris Bean and Dr. Kimberly Safde, Curriculum Coordinator the school district. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
May 23, 2019
BRISTOL – Thanks to a Children's Literacy Foundation grant, boys and girls at Bristol Elementary School welcomed a couple of special yet familiar guests at their assembly last week.

Dr. Kimberly Sarfde, Newfound Area School District's Curriculum Coordinator, said that while the CLiF grant the district received this year was used in a number of ways, they were still able to provide the students with books from local authors, Jim and Brad Tonner of Twin Designs Gift Shop in downtown Bristol.

"I thought, what better way to send children the message that people can come from small towns and still accomplish great things then to have Jim and Brad come meet with them," said Sarfde.

During their visit the brothers not only provided copies of their first book, "The Original Story of Diane the Turtle," they also surprised the students by reading them their latest book, "Happy Birthday Diane the Turtle."

"It's kind of like the world premiere right here in Bristol where it all happened," said Brad.

Diane the Turtle is a celebrity in her own right, living the good life in her spacious aquarium inside the brother's shop. Nearly every child at the school raised their hand when the Tonners asked if they had ever stopped in to say hi to Diane. A live Web camera capturing her activities has also attracted fans from all over the world and Diane the Turtle has even been featured in newspapers, magazines and television shows from as far away as Europe and Asia.

Before they read the new book last week though, Jim and Brad first told students how Diane the Turtle came to be part of their lives.

When Jim was 12-years-old, he became ill and had to spend six months on his back in recovery. With no Internet in those days and few television channels for entertainment, he quickly grew bored with his confinement. The idea to hang a basket outside his bedroom window though soon became something Jim could look forward to each day as friends and neighbors regularly dropped small gifts, notes, books or toys inside to help him pass the time.

On Dec. 15, 1968, Jim said that he pulled the basket up to see if there was anything in it that day and was surprised to find a live, tiny turtle with a cute little habitat awaiting him.

While baby turtles were popular with children at that time, not many survived more than a few weeks or months since the proper care and the food for them was hard to come by. That didn't stop Jim, his siblings and parents from treating her with loving care though. The whole family pitched in to help Jim nurture Diane over the years and last December, as perhaps the most pampered pet turtles around, she celebrated her 50th birthday with her friends near and far.

"Diane's one of the few turtle survivors of the 1960's," Brad told the students. "When we brought her to Bristol we had no idea how many people would love her."

The pair then brought out their newest book that tells the story of that landmark 50th birthday and all the fun the Tonners, their family and Diane's friends had while planning her party. It was complete with items such as turtle donuts, cookies and cupcakes, face painting, balloons and other fun turtle trinkets for their guests. People even lined up outside their shop to wait for their chance to wish Diane the Turtle a happy birthday.

"It's been a charmed turtle life for her," Jim said.

To this day Jim still has no idea who placed Diane the Turtle in his basket back in 1968, but he and Brad dedicated this latest book to that special unknown person, wherever they may be today.

Amidst the fun of the "Happy Birthday Diane" literary debut, Twin Designs' Dancing Turtle pal joined in on the fun. When the story was over, the Dancing Turtle then helped Jim and Brad pass out gifts to the children of BES and "high-fived" each of them as they lined up for snacks.

Safde told them that as they each received not only an autographed copy of "The Original Story of Diane the Turtle," but a plush turtle and a tiny toy turtle replica to take home, they should all keep the fun of reading in mind.

"When you read a book, any book, you should be reading it to your new turtle," she said.

Jim and Brad also encouraged the boys and girls to care for any pets they have and treat them with the kindness and love they've shone Diane the Turtle over the last 50 years.

"Diane trusts everyone and she's never had a bad day. You have to love your pets and take care of them and they'll live a long time," said Jim.

Copies of "Happy Birthday Diane the Turtle" will be on sale in just a few weeks at Twin Designs Gift Shop on Central Square in Bristol.

Garnett Hill
Martin Lord Osman
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