6 January 2023

Rave reviews for Griffith psychologist’s grandson-inspired debut children’s book

| Oliver Jacques
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Julia Hopp reading her book to her grandson

Julia Hopp reads her book to grandson Leor. Photo: Supplied.

Griffith psychologist Julia Hopp’s debut children’s book Mrs Turtle Becomes a Grandma has received a string of glowing reviews following its publication late last year.

Her semi-autobiographical story was inspired by the long-awaited birth of her first grandchild, Leor, in 2020.

“My daughter Dagney and her husband Pete experienced a period of infertility to which science came to the rescue,” Ms Hopp said.

“This was in the form of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). This intervention gave them the chance to have a baby. It was a long, emotional journey. Dagney became pregnant after the sixth embryo transfer.

“After an early ultrasound scan which showed the image of the baby on a screen, Dagney told us that the baby looked like a turtle. When I heard this I thought, well, if my grandson is a turtle then I must be a turtle too. ‘Turtle’ was the baby’s name throughout the rest of the pregnancy.”

Dagney Hopp outside cafe

Dagney Hopp and her husband’s experience has led to a children’s book. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The ultrasound image inspired Ms Hopp to write a fictional account of her journey in becoming a grandmother, which later became a published story about a glamorous, blonde turtle unafraid of doing things her own way.

“I wanted to convey to my grandson and anyone who reads it that we should never have to change ourselves to fit someone else’s narrative … never try to be someone you are not,” she said.

Unlike other turtles, Mrs Turtle enjoys socialising, exercise, rock music and shoes – all loved by Julia Hopp too.

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The book was reviewed by children’s literature websites Read Plus and The Bottom Shelf. The former described the book as “a very engaging story about being true to ourselves … a great gift for anyone becoming a grandmother for the first time”.

The latter said it was “a great story for introducing young readers to the concept of stereotypes as well as building and meeting expectations”.

Read Plus also praised the high-quality illustrations in the book, which were drawn by Griffith artist, actor and teacher Michael Lee.

“One of the first questions I asked Julia was about the turtle. At first she said it was a different character … but then she wanted blonde hair and high heels and I figured I should make it look like her,” Mr Lee said.

“It took us about three years, but it was always a joy to work on the project, I’m so proud of Julia.”

Michael Lee's turtle drawing

Michael Lee’s drawing of the Julia-inspired Mrs Turtle. Picture: Michael Lee.

Mr Lee is now working on his own spooky adventure children’s book, which he is writing himself as well as doing the illustrations.

Ms Hopp, a school counsellor and former teacher who migrated to Australia from South Africa in 1999, said turtle preservation was another goal of her work.

“I started to become obsessed with turtles. I did a bit of research and I realised they were endangered all over the world.

“When I went the publishing route, I wanted to include something children can do to help turtle preservation. Children are better at preservation than us.”

The last page of her book includes a list of things we can all do to protect marine turtles.

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Over the past few months, Ms Hopp has been doing a series of author talks at libraries and schools, with a highlight occurring at Yoogali Public.

“I asked the children at Yoogali, ‘What do you think is the message of the book?’

“A little boy put up his hand and said ‘Just be yourself’.

“That was the best moment of the whole process.”

Mrs Turtle Becomes a Grandma can be purchased at the Collins Booksellers stores in Griffith and Wagga. It can also be bought online directly from the author.

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