cover image The Race of Toad and Deer

The Race of Toad and Deer

Pat Mora. Orchard Books (NY), $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-531-09477-8

In this Guatemalan variation on the tortoise-and-hare fable, the laurels go not to virtuous persistence but to crafty teamwork. When Venado, an overconfident deer, challenges the mischievous toad Sapo to a running contest, Sapo enlists the help of his friends. Unbeknown to Venado, toads hide along the race course. As Venado springs ahead, he goads Sapo by calling back, ``Adelante, Tio Sapo, forward!'' But each call is mysteriously answered by a Sapo-like voice ahead: ``Adelante, Tio Venado, forward!'' Utterly disoriented, Venado races faster and faster, wearing himself out before he reaches the finish. Lightly peppered with Spanish expressions, Mora's (The Desert Is My Mother) text is organically bicultural. But Sapo's crucial scheme is nearly buried in an encyclopedic cast of rainforest characters, confusing the focus of the story. First-time illustrator Brooks, who spent much of her youth in Guatemala, smooths over the busy text with bold folk paintings. Flat, rounded compositions absorb the heat of her quasi-electric palette, containing the motion within an festive, well-modulated tempo. Ages 2-6. (Sept.)