The Contest

Cover

Adapted and Illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian

Greenwillow Books, 1976

Awards: Caldecott Honor

High in the mountains, near the village of Erzingah, there lived two robbers named Hmayag and Hrahad.

The plot in a nutshell:  Two robbers compete for the hand of a woman

The two robbers are both engaged to the same woman, Ehleezah. Since they each work different hours, they visit her at different times of the day, which keeps each of them unaware of the other’s existence. When they both go off to another town to do their robbing, she packs them each a bag of food. But they meet up on the road when they both happen to stop for lunch at the same time and place. When they discover they have the exact same foods in their packs, they become friends and travel together. Of course, conversation soon reveals they are both engaged to the same woman. They agree to a contest to see which is the cleverest thief and whoever wins can marry Ehleezah. Although they each commit a clever crime, they don’t know who won the contest. They decide that Ehleezah doesn’t deserve either of them and they stay in the town, where the robbing potential is good.

They look pretty calm for two guys who just realized they're involved with the same woman.

They look pretty calm for two guys who just realized they’re involved with the same woman.

Author/illustrator Nonny Hogrogian draws from her personal heritage to share a story from the folklore of her parents’ native Armenia. For those less familiar with Armenian names, she includes a helpful pronunciation guide on the book’s acknowledgements page. I found it particularly interesting that the book really has no redeeming characters, since the story revolves around two criminals and the woman who is cheating on both of them. That may be one reason that the story just didn’t work for me. The artwork, in colored pencil and ink, combined line drawings with full color pictures, bordered with patterns from Oriental rugs.  I liked the Oriental rug theme and the way it continued through the book, but I wasn’t much of a fan of the rest of the illustrations. So overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed with this one.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that it’s a good idea, before competing for any prize, to make sure it’s a prize worth fighting for.

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