Few sea turtles can claim the title of “international celebrity,” but three buoyant new picture books—Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius, Yoshi and the Ocean: A Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey Home, and Yoshi’s Big Swim: One Turtle’s Epic Journey Home—celebrate a special loggerhead turtle. The coincidental publications take distinct perspectives on the supreme good luck and astonishing survival skills of one impressive reptile, who navigated a 22,000-mile path from South Africa to northwestern Australia between 2017 and 2020.

Yoshi’s story began in 1997, when she was less than a year old and found injured at sea by the crew of a Japanese fishing vessel. The sailors transported her to Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, which improvised a turtle-rehabilitation regimen for Yoshi and, as a result, developed a significant sea-turtle conservation program for loggerheads and other species.

Over the next two decades, Yoshi grew to breeding age, weighing in at more than 400 pounds. Staffers assessed that she could return to the wild, so divers encouraged her to swim laps and taught her to hunt again. On December 16, 2017, they released her (and 27 juvenile turtles) into the ocean with a geolocator glued to her carapace, just behind her head. After swimming up Africa’s Atlantic western coastline, she reversed course and rounded the Cape of Good Hope, entering the Indian Ocean and doggedly paddling east. By the time the transmitter’s battery wore out after 1,003 days, she was among other loggerheads in a wildlife refuge along Australia’s secluded Eighty Mile Beach.

Lynne Cox, a celebrated long-distance cold-water swimmer and the author of Swimming to Antarctica, brings her specialized knowledge to the story in Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius. “This sea turtle navigated in a straight line from Africa to northwestern Australia, using the magnetic force of the ocean, celestial navigation, wave height, and direction to stay on course,” Cox marveled. “Inside this little being was genius. The longest distance I swam was 33 miles, and she was swimming 20 to 30 miles a day to get back to Australia.”

When Cox heard Yoshi’s story from an elementary school teacher and friend, she thought back to her own record-breaking swim around the Cape of Good Hope in 1977. The waves were 20 feet high when she swam there, and can reach triple that height. “I was the first person to swim around the Cape, and I imagine she probably saw the same kinds of wildlife along shore and in the world that I did,” Cox said. “On the Atlantic side, it’s cold dark-blue water and there are kelp forests, but when you go around the Cape, it’s 70-degree water, and you’re swimming through an aquarium of fish. There’s an amazing mixing where the oceans come together.”

Cox proposed the picture book to Anne Schwartz, who had been her editor on Elizabeth, Queen of the Sea, the story of a wayward New Zealand elephant seal. Schwartz admires Cox’s accounts of champion swimmers and saw audience appeal in Yoshi’s story. “There’s something almost mystical about the way Yoshi returns to her birthplace,” said Schwartz, who responded to the loggerhead’s “instinctual need to get home to the beach where she was born. I think that will intrigue kids, that she swam thousands of miles and found her way home.” Not only is this an adventure story, Schwartz said, it’s “a story of a creature being smarter than the scientists” who are surprised when she voyages so far afield of their predictions.

Richard Jones, illustrator of Matt Whyman’s Our Planet (the companion picture book to the Netflix documentary series with Sir David Attenborough), contributed watercolor spreads and close-up vignettes to Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius. “A turtle is not that easy to make relatable, I guess you would say,” Schwartz ventured, yet Jones successfully pictured a charismatic marine creature.

“Lynne’s knowledge of and love for the ocean sang out from the manuscript,” Jones said. “I was mindful that each page had to move Yoshi’s story on a fraction, as we are not only watching her travel a great distance but also grow in age and stature. Although there was an awful lot of blue paint involved, I made sure that each page used a different visual device to tell its own part of the story.”

The manuscript includes a multi-panel sequence in which baby Yoshi escapes entanglement in a fishing net, raising awareness of threats; a full-bleed spread of Yoshi swimming near a whale shark; and a happy ending in which adult Yoshi lays eggs on her home beach. These passages mimic sea turtles’ actual lives, although they are interpretations of Yoshi’s experiences. “We talked about how we might make Yoshi’s journey and the passage of time visually interesting to a reader, while at the same time staying true to the real-life events as we know them,” Jones recalled.

Cox supplemented her knowledge by speaking to Two Oceans Aquarium director Maryke Musson and participating in sea-turtle conservation in Costa Rica, where she observed eggs hatching. “I have a much better appreciation for how they live now,” said Cox, who sometimes encounters green sea turtles while swimming in Alamedas Bay, near her home in Long Beach, Calif. “I related so much to Yoshi’s story, because this sea turtle finds her way through the world, and there are people along the way who help.”

Mapping Yoshi’s Journey

While Cox brings her swimmer’s perspective to Yoshi’s odyssey, Lindsay Moore, author of Yoshi and the Ocean, approaches the picture book as a marine biologist. Moore began a career as a medical illustrator before turning to picture books; she also works as a bookseller at Between the Covers in Harbor Springs, Mich.

Moore first heard about Yoshi from Greenwillow editor Virginia Duncan, who showed her a news piece and asked whether it might become a picture book. It was March 2020, and “this was the first book I signed up, from home” during the pandemic, Duncan recalled. “I thought Yoshi’s story was incredible; when I was little, I saw a nest of turtles hatch and make their escape into the ocean in the Bahamas. I had worked with Lindsay on Sea Bear and I thought she’d be the perfect person for this project.”

“There are a lot of sea turtle stories out there,” Moore said, “but I trusted Virginia’s instincts.” After reading through all of Two Oceans’s Yoshi updates, Moore printed out a map of the ocean floor and tracked the entire journey. “That was where I really got excited,” Moore said, “because it told a story about how the ocean worked. When I looked at her trail on the map, I saw she was hitting all these marine protected areas, and that showed me these animals are intelligent and sentient, to find where they need to be.”

From there, Moore studied how turtle hatchlings, imprinted by their home beaches, get swept up in gyres and travel long and hazardous distances. She learned how they navigate and how they can become cold-stunned if they stray from warm currents. “I didn’t know their VO2 max until I researched it,” said Moore. “You want to know your character.”

She crafted her naturalistic spreads in watercolor, colored pencil, and ink, with Yoshi diving deep or breaking the turbulent surface for a breath and glimpse of sky. “One thing I decided early on: the ocean was not just a setting—it became a character,” Moore said. “A lot of thought went into the color and the weather where she would have been.” She created “dynamic shots from all angles,” depicting Yoshi with sea lions and flying fish, or passing “silent lines” with “deadly hooks.” A repeated cursive greeting imitates the transmitter’s steady signal: “Hello from Yoshi. I am here.” Moore had written this on the book dummy as a placeholder, and she and Duncan liked the effect enough to keep it in the final version.

“We wanted Yoshi and the Ocean to have kid appeal and not just be a straightforward nonfiction title,” Duncan said, and the result is “lyrical and full of information at the same time.” Moore and Duncan included four spreads of detailed back matter, and they fact-checked the material with consultants, including Two Oceans staffers and a former Disney biologist.

“My goal was to share how the ocean worked, and to invite children to fall in love with it,” Moore said. “Effective communication can change people’s perspectives” on science and conservation.

Yoshi’s Friends and Fandom

A third Yoshi picture book centers on the human community that cared for Yoshi and the determination she needed to cross the Indian Ocean. “I feel like Yoshi kind of wrote her own story,” said Mary Wagley Copp, author of Yoshi’s Big Swim. “She was so sure of what she was doing” the moment she splashed into the sea. Meanwhile, Copp said, “there was so much love, and so much hope, and so much commitment around this turtle. She created a very strong, loving, ripple effect” among those who met her or followed her story.

Like Cox and Moore, Copp corresponded with Maryke Musson of Two Oceans as part of her research. Musson “was on staff when Yoshi was brought in, and she was one of the caretakers who made the decision that Yoshi should be released,” Copp said. Copp’s agent, Charlotte Wenger of the Prospect Agency, took the manuscript to managing editor Kristen Mohn of Capstone. Mohn saw Yoshi’s Big Swim as a “true story that touches on so many great themes—conservation efforts, a spirit of perseverance, an inspiring and hope-filled mission, STEM teamwork, and an adorable ocean animal. It felt like a perfect picture book concept.”

The written and visual components of Yoshi’s Big Swim “emphasize the human/animal connection, because Yoshi truly did have a connection with her care team,” Mohn said. “Their

first priority was to give her the best natural life they could, which meant listening to what Yoshi wanted and deciding to release her back into the wild when she was ready.” For Mohn, a significant piece of the tale is the aquarium’s decision “to say goodbye” and give Yoshi a second chance at her wild life.

In Croatian illustrator Kaja Kajfež’s watercolor images, fishermen, wildlife specialists, and children of diverse races and genders interact kindly with Yoshi before she is set free. Mohn praises the “sweet emotion” in the imagery: “We wanted to make sure not to anthropomorphize Yoshi, but let her natural turtle face convey all the trust she had in her human caretakers. There’s such a sense of collective goodwill and hope for this little turtle.”

Despite the risks to marine creatures from “propellers, predators, and plastic,” Copp said, survival stories like Yoshi’s encourage optimistic action. Copp herself, a former competitive swimmer who lives along the Westport River in Massachusetts, now swims outdoors in fundraisers for Buzzards Bay and Narragansett Bay to promote river, bay, and ocean health. “It’s not just the water, it’s the animals in the water—the whole natural environment” that stories like Yoshi’s illuminate, Copp said. “My dream when this is published is to talk at Two Oceans Aquarium” about Yoshi and environmental education.

Meanwhile (although the transmitter can no longer confirm her location), the celebrity loggerhead turtle seems to have reached her own dream destination, among other wild turtles and far from the paparazzi.

Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius: A True Story About an Amazing Swimmer by Lynne Cox, illus. by Richard Jones. Random House/Anne Schwartz Books, $18.99 Jan. 10, 2023 ISBN 978-0-593-42568-8

Yoshi and the Ocean: A Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey Home by Lindsay Moore. Greenwillow, $18.99 May 2022 ISBN 978-0-06-306098-2

Yoshi’s Big Swim: One Turtle’s Epic Journey Home by Mary Wagley Copp, illus. by Kaja Kajfez. Capstone, $17.99 Dec. 29 ISBN 978-1-68446-535-4