There is an art to reading a picture book but I’ve not encountered many schools that actually teach that skill. Librarians will learn it in their graduate courses, of course, but what about parents and booksellers? Are they doomed to stumble through their readings without getting some of the insider tips and tricks? Yup, pretty much. The only thing you can really do is just recommend to them picture books that make reading aloud one-on-one or to large groups a painless experience. Books that have an inherent interior rhythm and logic that kids will naturally adhere to. So each and every year I sit and wait for those great picture book readalouds of the year. For 2012 I’ve seen a couple that lend themselves to groups. Up, Tall and High by Ethan Long is ideal for preschoolers. Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds is perfect for the 1st and 2nd graders. But the all-around best readaloud of the year, bar none as far as I can tell, has got to be It’s a Tiger! A boon to librarians and booksellers looking for new storytime fare as well as parents and grandparents, David LaRochelle’s latest is a hoot, a holler, and could even be called a hootenanny if you’re so inclined to call it that.
So you’re walking through the forest, minding your own business, checking out monkeys when you realize that the orange and black tail over there isn’t a vine at all. It’s a TIGER!! Like a shot you (which is to say, the boy in the book) take off lickety split. Still, it doesn’t matter where you go. Whatever you do, that darned tiger seems to follow. Dark caves, ships at sea, desert islands, the tiger is everywhere! At the end you realize that the tiger doesn’t really want to eat you. So to put it to sleep you decide to tell it a story. A story about a boy walking through the forest until he sees a green scaly vine. Wait a minute . . . that’s not a vine . . . .
It took a couple readings before I realized something essential about this particular book. Turns out, this is one of the rare picture books written in the second person. You do this. You do that. The reader actually is the little boy who finds himself inexplicably running into the same orange and black foe over and over again. It’s a narrative technique that I just know that I’ve seen in picture books before, but when I try to think of them I find myself stumped. They’re not as common as you might think and I certainly can’t come up with any that are also great read alouds for large groups. By making the audience the narrator they get all the requisite chills and thrills without actually feeling like they’re in direct danger. It would be a good companion to Michael Rosen’s We’re Going On A Bear Hunt honestly. Same threat level. Same you-are-there aspects.
I think what I like best about the book is the fact that it goes from surprising to funny in fairly short order. The first three or four times you turn the page and encounter a tiger the kids are still uncertain about the order of occurrences. Once the pattern is firmly established, that’s when they can kind of let go and enjoy. Then LaRochelle ratchets up the silly factor and the kids really begin to have fun. We don’t always remember that children have a relatively refined sense of the absurd. They’re literalists, every last one, and though they might point out the flaws in your logic as you read the book (how can you swing and land on the tiger when you just escaped the tiger?) there’s a different kind of fun to be had in telling grown-ups they can’t possibly be right about something. It’s a Tiger! combines several different kinds of reading pleasures then. Interactive (kids can yell “It’s a tiger!” along with the reader). Power plays (telling adults they must be mistaken). The element of surprise. The controlled fear factor. It’s all there. And it’s awesome.
It is difficult for me to be impartial about a book that features the art of Jeremy Tankard. A couple years ago he burst onto the picture book scene with three books that changed the way I do preschool storytimes (Grumpy Bird, Me Hungry!, and Boo Hoo Bird). Even when he’s working on other people’s books, as in the case here, he has a distinctive style that can’t be beat. In this book he utilizes his usual ink and digital media style, but the colors are extraordinary. They just pop off the page with these magnificent blues, greens, oranges, yellows, and reds. It was interesting to note that the pages themselves have a sheen and gleam I’ve not noticed in a picture book before. Hold them up to the light and watch as the thick black lines and colors seem as though they should be transparent, if that makes any sense. That visual pop means that when you reach the every-other-page “surprise” of the tiger, Tankard can really make the animal’s appearance seem surprising. He uses some anime-type lines around the tiger from time to time to direct the eye to the center of the page, which as of this review still has a new and contemporary feel to it. We’ve seen it in books by folks like Dan Santat for years, of course. My suspicion is that though it will certainly make the book feel like an early-21st creation, that doesn’t mean it’ll age poorly. It’s simply a work of its time now.
Long story short, we haven’t seen a boy/tiger relationship this complex since the days of Calvin and Hobbes. Tigers are such cute and cuddly carnivores, and honestly it’s very difficult to be perfectly afraid of something as soft and fluffy as a tiger. That sort of makes them ideal picture book threats. LaRochelle has written innovative picture books for years now (The End, etc.). Pairing him with Tankard just guarantees a hit. Put this one on your Must Have list and stat.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, ill. Helen Oxenbury
- Snip, Snap! What’s That? by Mara Bergman
- Fortunately by Remy Charlip
Other Blog Reviews:
- A behind the scenes glimpse at the making of the book.
- And here’s the activity kit.
- And here’s a teacher’s guide.
A handy dandy book trailer, here for the viewing.