Kidlit Review: Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

Tiger BoyTiger Boy written by Mitali Perkins, pictures by Jamie Hogan

From GoodReads: When a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve near Neel’s island village, the rangers and villagers hurry to find her before the cub’s anxious mother follows suit and endangers them all. Mr. Gupta, a rich newcomer to the island, is also searching—he wants to sell the cub’s body parts on the black market. Neel and his sister, Rupa, resolve to find the cub first and bring her back to the reserve where she belongs.
The hunt for the cub interrupts Neel’s preparations for an exam to win a prestigious scholarship at a boarding school far from home. Neel doesn’t mind—he dreads the exam and would rather stay on his beloved island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal with his family and friends.
But through his encounter with the cub, Neil learns that sometimes you have to take risks to preserve what you love. And sometimes you have to sacrifice the present for the chance to improve the future.

I really enjoyed this short book. It is actually the first Mitali Perkins book I have read despite the fact that she visited our school a few years ago and she spoke at a conference I attended last year.

The writing was really good and the story was suspenseful and exciting. Neel begins the book not really wanting to stay in school, but comes to realize the importance of a good education if he wants to improve his community and preserve the Sunderbans. While this is clearly a message in the book, Perkins wove it beautifully into the story. Kids won’t notice the great message because they’ll be so wrapped up in the suspense of rescuing the tiger cub and wondering if Neel does well on his exam. Despite a more serious tone the book has some great moments of levity (the headmaster manages to be really funny while not even trying) and an excellent villain.

As for the pictures, I think their inclusion is good for younger readers and kids who are having the book read aloud to them. The ones in the book are fine, but the cover is pretty uninviting. I read another review of the book where they suggested that kids might not pick the book up on their own and I totally agree. The reviewer also said kids would be missing out and again I agree. I think the cover is going to be really off-putting for most kids. The look on Neel’s face might elicit a few giggles and snickers. The shading is odd (even though after having read the book I understand why he looks like that). The tiger cub has such a sad look on her face! The overall design is kind of strange, too. Maybe the dark blue color makes it look off? The font isn’t great either. In some ways it looks kind of out dated or old fashioned. I just don’t personally find it very appealing and I suspect kids won’t either.

I included it on our fourth grade summer reading list in hopes that some animal lover would find it and I really hope they do. It’s so worth reading. The book would also make a great classroom read aloud considering both it’s message about the importance of an education and the excitement of it all. And reluctant readers should enjoy the story and the length.