Burningham charges up selected and rearranged illustrations from one of his early works with a new text that adds considerable bite.
Retold in the 1968 version (titled The Extraordinary Tug-of-War) by Letta Schatz from an Ethiopian tale, the story features a clever hare who challenges scornful Hippo and Elephant to a tug of war, then puts them on opposite ends of the same rope. Burningham does away with the original’s now-stodgy folklorese: “And Elephant would bellow, billowing with laughter, ‘Ho, Hare! I hear you are called “Big Ears!” Big Ears! You! Please look at me!’ ” He replaces it with contemporary, and much more abusive, language: “And Elephant would say, ‘Hare, you really are a feeble idiot, with your twitching nose and whiskers. That’s all you have.’ ” By the time the animal dupes discover the deception and vow revenge (“Let’s get the little runt!”), Hare is long gone. In contrast to the sharp tone of the text, though the trim size of this new edition is only about an inch more all around, the spattered, scribbly illustrations look overly enlarged, with diffuse lines and dimly lit, indistinct details. No matter: They still serve to convey the thwarted bullies’ bulk and rage.
Young audiences will relish the outcome of this simple trickster tale and likely be startled into laughter by its edgy language. The little runts. (no source note) (Picture book/folktale. 5-8)