cover image Tug-of-War


John Burningham. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6575-3

In 1968, Burningham—now known for Mr. Gumpy’s Outing and Granpa, among other stories—illustrated Letta Schatz’s The Extraordinary Tug-of-War, a retold West African folktale. This edition reprints the original illustrations with a new retelling from Burningham himself. Hare, the smallest of three creatures, faces merciless teasing. Hippopotamus calls Hare “a tiny, wimpy thing” and a “weak little fool,” and Elephant trumpets, “Hare, you really are a feeble idiot.” Such insults may give readers pause, yet they show why Hare is keen to defeat his tormenters using his superior wits. Hare finds Elephant in the forest, challenges him to a tug-of-war, and gives him an end of rope. Hare meets Hippopotamus at the river and gives him the other end. Sight unseen, both creatures believe Hare is pulling against them, and fail to realize their error until Hare “was already miles away, up in the hills.” Burningham’s energetic yet shadowy mixed-media drawings, in aqueous hues of blue, brown, and green, recall the oily lithography of the 1960s, yet hold up well in this still-relevant fable. Ages 5–8. (Aug.)