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Tug-of-War by John Burningham

Tug-of-War is the newest book from John Burningham, author of over 60 picture books. Burningham is sort of the Maurice Sendak of the UK. His career as a picture book illustrator and author began around the same time - the early 1960s - and he began winning awards early on. A visual biography at The Guardian shows how, like Sendak, Burningham used colors and techniques in his illustrations that were new and expressive for the time. And, like Sendak, Burningham also deals with the emotional life of the child, choosing loneliness, imagination, isolation, and other uncommon (for the time) subjects. Burningham also happens to be married to Helen Oxenbury, one of my favorite illustrators (scroll to the bottom to see some of her work, We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen being her most well-known book in the US) and, in 2010, Helen and John collaborated on their first picture book ever. Besides being THE BEST picture book for a child about to get a sibling,  There's Going to Be a Baby, is  delightfully, cozily illustrated, with a text that reflects an understanding of and respect for the emotional and imaginative life of a young child.

Tug-of-War is a bit of a look back for Burningham in that it is a retelling of one of the first picture books he illustrated - Letta Schatz's The Extraordinary Tug-of-War, an African folktale that Schatz retold. In this edition, Burningham's retells the folktale in his own words, pairing them with his original artwork and dedicating it to his mother, who introduced him to African folktales.

Tug-of-War begins, "Hare, Hippopotamus and Elephant lived together in the forest. Often, when Hippopotamus and elephant had nothing better to do, they would be mean to Hare and tease him." But Hare finds a way to get back at Hippopotamus and Elephant by playing on their egos, which are even more enormous than they are, by tricking them into a tug-of-war. Each behemoth thinks they are tugging against Hare, but they are really tugging against each other. As stubborn as they are strong, they tug through the night and into the morning, the Hare getting each to admit that he is not the weakling they thought him to be. By the time the Elephant and Hippopotamus finally figure out that they have been tricked, the clever Hare is long gone...

Helen Oxenbury also illustrated these classic picture books that every kid should own!


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