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The Rumor

by Jan Thornhill

Long ago in India, a young worrywart hare settles down for a nap, only to be startled by a falling mango. It sounds like an explosion, and she panics, shouting, “The world is breaking up!” She runs through the forest, through the thicket, through marshland, scrubland, and plain, spreading the alarm and gathering an increasingly vast herd of hysterical animals around her. Finally, “a thousand rhinoceroses, a thousand tigers, a thousand deer, a thousand boars and a thousand hares” come thundering up to a lion, who stops them all with a roar and decides to test the truth of the rumour. When he shows the hare what the “explosion” really was, she and all the other animals return home in embarrassment. The wise lion (perhaps the Buddha in animal form) is kind enough not to rub it in.

This retelling of a traditional Jataka tale from India will delight children and adults alike. Most will recognize its affinities with Western the-sky-is-falling tales and take pleasure in the similarities and differences. Thornhill’s text uses rhythm and repetition to highlight the accumulating force of rumour unchecked. Humour lightens the lesson to be learned: when confronted with their foolishness, “the deer whistled silly tunes” and “the hares looked up at the sky and hummed.”

Thornhill’s borders and glorious illustrations of plants and animals are rich in detail and vibrantly coloured, and will keep young readers poring over their intricate renderings. A note at the end about the animals featured – all of them endangered or threatened – offers more information. This is certainly a book to treasure.