Saturday, October 22, 2011
The Great Race, written and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley. Bloomsbury Kids, Penguin. 2011. $21.00 ages 3 and up
"Nate went home and exercised. He did a sit-up while he watched TV. He chased after the ice-cream truck, and he ran to the pastry shop."
It's always fun to see an artist's new vision of a classic tale. In this familiar fable, tortoise and hare are setting up for a race and we know what the outcome will be. It does nothing to minimize our enjoyment. For those children who may not have read any other version, they will find fun and learning in the telling.
We know Kevin O'Malley to have a wicked sense of humor. Here, he puts it to good use once more. The hare seems certain of the outcome even as we peruse the cover. He's carrying a placard proclaiming his place in the race, while below that the tortoise plods past trees, popsicle in hand and umbrella protecting him from the sun.
The main characters are introduced on the first two pages. Lever Lapin is a dynamo in running circles, the winner of many important races and famous for it. Frankly, Nate Tortoise has had it with all the publicity and acclaim that Lever generates:
"Oh brother," Nate sighed. "Can't a tortoise just enjoy a meal in peace without hearing about Lever Lapin? I mean, really, he's just a runner. I could probably beat him in a race."
He didn't mean to say it out loud. Seems Lever and the rest of the restaurant patrons hear him and have a laugh. Once again, Nate is ticked: "Lapin, you're as sharp as a marble." He challenges Lever to a race, giving a week's notice and an ultimatum for the loser. The training begins in earnest...well, of a sort. Nate would rather have ice cream than sit-up and his training doesn't go so well. No matter, one week later the crowd gathers and the race is on!
Kevin O'Malley fills his pages with bold color, telling faces, and lots of action. There is so much to see in the details. His word choice adds to the fun...notably, the restaurant where the challenge is issued is named the La Gaganspew. As Nick marches on, Lever takes time to address his admiring fans and to sign a few autographs:
"Gentlemen, it's only five dollars for my autograph. And ladies, please, only one kiss for each of you. Then I really must be going. The tortoise will be here in two or three days."
Of course, fable fans already know the outcome and the lesson learned. You'll get a chuckle from the next day's newspaper headline. I promise!