Tug of War: Book Review

A tug of war. Strength versus smarts. All Tortoise wanted was to make the already lovely sunny day perfect by making friends. He didn't expect to be turned down.

Title: Tug of War
Author: Naomi Howarth
Illustrator: Naomi Howarth
ISBN: 9781847808509         Language: English

Classification: Fiction
Type: Picture Book
Themes: cause and effect, individuality, friendship, strength

What's it about?
Tortoise is enjoying a sunny day and decides to go for a walk and find some new friends. First, he meets Elephant but he says Tortoise is too stupid to be his friend. Then, he meets Hippo but he says Tortoise is too wrinkly to be friends. Tortoise feels sad but then decides he wants to teach them something about being who you are.

There are only a couple of sentences on each page and a good balance of prose and dialogue. The illustrations portray emotions (especially of Tortoise) extremely well.

Uses the word 'stupid' a couple of times.

My Thoughts
This one has just been released on the 5th of June 2018. I actually read this one yesterday and wanted to take some time to think about it and reflect on it because there are a few themes in it I'm not overly keen on.

We'll start with the language first - it does include the word 'stupid' - from memory 3 times but don't quote me on that. For some readers, this is going to be a big no-no as children tend to repeat what you say - so if you're reading it as a bedtime story you might need to think twice. Personally, if I was reading it to my kids I would likely just replace 'stupid' with 'silly' - at almost 4 they're too young to know I've done it. If reading it to school age you're not going to get away with that as you will have kids in the early grades who can actually read. This is where you need to decide on the appropriateness of using the book. Of course, keep in mind that The Twits by Roald Dahl includes similar words and a lot of grade 2/3 teachers still use the book. Demographics and cultural make-up of the class will really influence this bit.

While I started with language I'm going to move on to the story itself. Basically, Elephant and Hippo see no value in Tortoise being their friend due to them being so much bigger, stronger, etc. That's a theme that a lot of kids can create Text-to-Self connections with so it makes this book very relatable.

"If you look at teaching the 'moral of the story'
in your class you may find this a bit tricky."

Tortoise uses his brain by challenging both Elephant and Hippo to a Tug-of-War against him to teach them a lesson. I actually thought it was a clever idea. However, if you look at teaching the 'moral of the story' in your class you may find this a bit tricky. Tortoise deceives them but that's okay because he was teaching them a lesson? And then because Tortoise was so clever to deceive them and they can see he is smart Elephant and Hippo will now friends? That makes me cringe a bit. Firstly, why be friends with someone who is mean, obnoxious, and rude? Secondly, do you only become friends with someone because you can see them as being useful in Hindsight?

I know it's a picture book and I think in some circumstances the "fault" I'm referring to could actually be turned around and used as a great discussion and reflective unit in the classroom on friendships - making friends, what's important, how you treat friends.

Overall, if you take it on face-value it is an entertaining story. If you want to use it in the classroom, just make sure you plan thoroughly first.

Special thanks to Frances Lincoln Children's Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of the book.


  1. I imagine the illustrations are awesome and in theory it should be a good book. Like you I would much prefer 'silly' to be used in place of 'stupid'. A really thorough review, love the fact the main character is a tortoise :) Sim x

  2. Thank you Sim. Everytime I look at Tortoise I keep thinking of that one a few years ago who was the last of his species :( That is probably another teaching point I didn't even think of at the time.