Allison Speer’s Story of Belonging

A Fort Worth fable inspired a book about Theodore the turkey.

Allison Speer’s Story of Belonging

A Fort Worth fable inspired a book about Theodore the turkey.

Local lore tells of a turkey who wandered around outside the Fort Worth Zoo. Concerned passersby would call the zoo to notify animal handlers that one of their turkeys had escaped.

But all of the zoo’s turkeys were accounted for.

Courtesy of Allifish Press

Courtesy of Allifish Press

The little legend was the inspiration for a new book, Theodore the Turkey who Found a Zoo (Allifish Press, 2018), by Allison Speer ’91.

“I tucked that in the back of my head,” said Speer, who worked at the Fort Worth Zoo in the early 2000s and believed the stray turkey was looking for a home with other animals.

Speer left the zoo and became a third-grade teacher. Three years ago, the turkey trotted back into her mind. The name Theodore is both an alliterative device and a nod to a boy who had a crush on Speer’s daughter.

Speer’s third graders ended up being a perfect focus group as she wrote the book. Using the facts they learned about animals, the students brainstormed about the other creatures that might be included in the story.

Based on their feedback, Speer ended up adding a lion.

In the book, Theodore the turkey (wearing cowboy boots) tries to find animals most like him in the zoo. He finds similarities between his own call (gobble gobble) and the lion’s roar.

To bring the story to life, Speer needed to find an illustrator for her zoo animals.

In her doctor’s waiting room Speer spotted a children’s book featuring the style of illustration she envisioned for the turkey tale. Her doctor had written the book.

Speer inquired: “Who is your illustrator? I don’t care about my health right now. I just want to know who the illustrator is.”

Bobby Ligon — the physician’s husband and a talented painter of realistic portraits of animals and nature scenes — was the illustrator for that book.

Speer met the artist, and Ligon got to work the next day.

“It’s amazing how he got into my brain and drew Theodore and the other characters even better than I could have ever thought,” Speer said.