Saturday 28 October 2023

Tug of War

Tug of War by Naomi Howarth (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) PB HB RRP $24.99 9780711284548

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Londoner Naomi Howarth is a costume designer as well as an illustrator/author. Her gorgeous picture book The Crow’s Tale was short-listed for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Tortoise wants a friend, both elephant and hippo scoff. Tortoise feels small and stupid until Bird squawks ‘Nonsense!’ Tortoise creates a plan to show where being bigger and stronger doesn’t always mean being better. A game of tug of war shows that friendship is what matters most of all.

The setting for this tale is on the banks of a great African river. In the first spread Howarth introduces what Tortoise is seeking. I think it’s the perfect day to make a new friend.’ The dialogue and questioning allow the reader to know what Tortoise is going to ask and then feel the rejection. ‘Be your friend?’ bellowed Elephant. ‘No thanks. I am the biggest and best beast in this jungle, and you are nothing more than a small, stupid old tortoise.’ The sting of those words is deeply felt. This then repeats with Hippo. The efficient use of two words allows the blue page to really sting. Poor Tortoise! I love that Bird shows that someone else’s kindness can have a huge impact. So, Tortoise thought…and thought… and thought… until he came up with a perfect plan. A word repeated and alliteration together show resilience and determination. It also creates a wonderful page turn.

Once again dialogue paces and moves the story forward. The words leave plenty of room for the illustrations to sing. This allows for the full message of the story to be absorbed and celebrated. The ending is satisfying not only for its message but its choice of words.

The illustrations are colourful and impactful, the setting has allowed wonderful scope for this book. The lush greens and bright foliage are delightful and the marbled green patterning on Tortoise’s shell is eye catching and interesting. I love how when Elephant and Hippo spray Tortoise with water it looks like paint splashes. The backgrounds on the spreads are interesting and bring bird and insect life into the story. The facial expressions and body language of each character strongly bring rejection to the reader even without the words. The different paint textures used not only create interest but help make the book beautiful. Humour plays when the two animals snap the vine on a double spread, and we see their big bottoms flying.

This picture book for children 3-8 years showcases friendship. It is funny, impactful, and delightful. I can see this book be popular with teachers in both preschools and primary schools.  It reads aloud well and visually it is strong.  This book is such a joy to read and share.

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