Alison Murray has given the tale of the Hare and the Tortoise a fabulous new lease of life. This book is full of humour, energy, charm and style. The endpapers (front and back) show us the map of the route that is ‘hopped’ by Hare and ‘tootled’ by Tortoise. Even the scale shown on the map is tongue-in-cheek. Hare (‘genus leapus swifticus’) is described very formally as highly competitive. (Note the cursive script for the ‘scientific’ facts and the plainer font for the narrative). Hare bounds onto the page as the narrator tries to get him to sit still while we are introduced. Meanwhile Tortoise (‘genus slow and steadicus’) is almost stationary and the narrator feels the need to show us how to distinguish him from a rock. After only four openings we are completely involved and adult and child readers alike are chuckling and rooting for Tortoise – yet not disliking Hare. The race begins and we are swept along by the story and left cheering at the end.
Murray’s mixed media illustrations are clever and stylish. The colours are bold and attractive and full of verve. Hare’s expressions range from smug confidence, to surprise and alarm, and eventually to happiness. Meanwhile Tortoise is calm and unflappable. Both characters are completely engaging. For readers who know the fable well, it is a breath of fresh air. As a means of introducing children to the fable, you couldn’t ask for a better version. Frequent re-reads will be demanded.