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The Great Race: An Indonesian Trickster Tale

Retold by Nathan Kumar Scott, illustrated by Jagdish Chitara,
The Great Race: An Indonesian Trickster Tale
Tara Books, 2011.

Ages: 3+

With The Great Race, Tara Books continues its stellar presentation of picture books illustrated by talented indigenous Indian artists. Nathan Kumar Scott retells the simple Indonesian trickster tale, a version of the tortoise and hare story. The traditional craft of illustrator Jagdish Chitara, a Waghari textile artist from Ahmedabad, is painting ritual cloths that celebrate the Mother Goddess in brilliant white, red and black. He uses the same ancient techniques and colors to depict the many stylized animal characters in this endearing folk story, his first secular project.

Instead of a hare, it's a mouse deer whose overconfidence leads to defeat in The Great Race. Kanchil has tested his mettle against many other forest dwellers, and he knows he can beat the crocodile, the tiger, and even his friend the elephant. The others know it, too, and only a snail takes up his challenge to race. Against such an absurd foe, Kanchil takes his sweet time cruising down the riverside, and children will delight in his deserved comeuppance when he finds the snail awaiting him at the finish line. How could this have happened?

Kanchil demands a re-race, of course, and this time he runs as fast as he can, only to find the snail again waiting for him at the end of the course. Kanchil never knows, but young readers discover that the snail has a twin; Scott's text lets them figure out for themselves the secret of the pair's success.

Teachers and parents will appreciate that Scott has provided a lively verbal challenge for his audience by telling the story in the past tense, with sophisticated use of conditionals and verb tenses. Tara Books is renowned for the beauty of their books and this one, skilfully printed in China on heavy matte paper that is a pleasure to the hand, will not disappoint. A detailed description of illustrator Chitara's cultural background and traditional art is provided at the back of the book. Story, pictures, and book design combine to make a treasure little children will adore. Parents and older siblings will not be bored, either, even reading it aloud to them again and again.

Charlotte Richardson
January 2013


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