Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Three Cheers: Rawrs and Stripes

My first-grader loves scary books (well, maybe not actual scary books, but the idea of scary books) so books about  ferocious animals--real or imagined--usually make it onto our must-read list.  In 2012 we read about snakes, taco-loving dragons, creepy carrots, a fish-eating fish, and tigers.  In fact, three books about tigers are new favorites at our house; each has a different tone and a distinctive personality--all are terrific.

First up is It's a Tiger! written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard.  The story starts in the jungle where "the monkeys swing from vine to vine" except one of the tails doesn't belong to a monkey, it belongs to a tiger.  "Run!" warns the narrator. And he runs from the tiger into a bat-filled cave where a suspicious shadow turns out to be . . . yep, the tiger.  The tiger seems to always be one step ahead of the narrator (and the reader) -- across a pit of snakes, into a bed of flowers, onto a boat, and finally to an island where we discover the tiger may not be so scary after all.  But . . . what about a crocodile?

Tankard uses brilliant oranges, reds, yellows, greens, and blue in his cartoon illustrations.  The not-quite-scary, but not-quite-cute tiger is equally believable in both his roles.  A combination of thin and thick linework creates layers that allow the central elements--outlined in bold, black lines--to seemingly float above the page and ensures the focus stays on the boy and the tiger.

Anticipation, brilliant pacing, and the magic of page turns makes this a great story to share, especially with younger children.

You can read more about making the art for It's a Tiger at Chronicle Books Blog.

I'm always excited to see anything new by Candace Fleming, and when I heard she had a new picture book coming out that was illustrated by Eric Rohmann, I practically did cartwheels.  And Oh, No!, which came out in September, is definitely cartwheel worthy.  The story begins on the endpapers when Tiger spots Frog and continues on the title page with Tiger chasing Frog off the right-hand side.  When Frog falls into a "deep, deep hole" other animals come to his aid, but unfortunately, they end up trapped in the hole with Frog.  All the while, earth-toned illustrations showing a tail and claws remind us that Tiger lurks nearby.  My favorite spread is when Tiger, licking his teeth, comes to "help" his victims.  Tiger is wickedly fierce, and the trapped animals huddle together, all appropriately frightened, but what I really like is how Rohmann manages to give each animal a unique temperament.  In the end, Tiger gets what he deserves, and the animals walk away with a final, "Oh, no!"

Fleming uses rhythm, repetition, and rhyme masterfully.  The rhythm in the text slows the story enough to keep it from being rushed as repeated lines let the reader linger over each animal's attempt to help.  At the same time, rhythm gives the story a lively pace. See how well it works in this sample:
Mouse came along, but what could she do?
Mouse came to help, but what could she do?
Mouse was so small, what could she do?
She tried reaching down,
and she fell in, too.
I admit, it took me a couple of readings to get really comfortable with the rhythm, but once I did, I couldn't imagine how it had tripped me up.  The repetition of "Oh, no!" as each animals falls, begs for interaction, the rhyme flows easily, and onomatopoeia adds to the fun.  You'll find yourself playing with the words even after you shut the book.  (As an added bonus, how many books do you have in your collection that have a monkey swinging from a kudzu vine?  Now that's fun to say!)

Finally, Sleep Like a Tiger, a book that came out at the end of October, is a gorgeous book that, because it came out late in the year, may have slipped under the radar, but really deserves some attention.  In lyrical prose, Mary Logue tells the story of a little girl who doesn't want to go to sleep.  The girl's clever parents nod their heads and agree that their daughter doesn't have to go to sleep, but she must "put her pajamas on."  Once she has climbed into bed, the girl asks, "Does everything in the world go to sleep?" and her parents assure her that the dog and cat are asleep, and bats, whales, snails, and even bears--the "mighty sleepers"-- sleep.  Reassured, the girl wriggles under the covers "like the cat in front of the fire," snuggles "deep as a bear", and finally, "like the strong tiger," falls fast asleep.

Pamela Zagarenski's illustrations contain an abundance of suns, wheels, stripes, crowns, and tigers.  The subdued palette and the stylized art imbue the book with a dreamlike quality, fitting for a crowned little girl and her similarly adorned parents.  (As an aside, I really want to be that mother.  I need a crown.)  Each page echoes the previous pages while moving the story forward.  With plenty of detail to hold your attention, even on repeated reading, the pictures create a world where whales, a toy llama, and a rag doll are perfectly at home.  Zagarenski even manages a nod to The Little Prince and  William Blake's "The Tiger."  The copyright page says, "The illustrations are mixed media paintings on wood, and computer illustrations."  I say, "Wow!"


  1. Sleep Like A Tiger looks really fun . . . unfortunately, I can't get it. I will put it on my list to check out for later.

    Animal books are always so immediately relatable somehow. Kids seems immediately drawn to them. We love reading Oh, No! and watching the tiger get his just rewards.

  2. It's a Tiger! is one of the best picture book from this year. I love how the pictures pop from the page.

  3. I really want to read "Sleep Like a Tiger"