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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Mr. Tiger, you rascal. The first time I saw art from this book, I wondered if I might be suffering from leaf motif overload. Between Jon Klassen and Lane Smith and a heap of others, I was beginning to tire of stylized leaves and trees, especially the ones that are computer manipulated and repeated. But then I read the book. And I was wowed. (And though it is NOT PART OF THE CRITERIA, my  second graders were wowed and amused, too.)

So, it’s all about the color. One color, actually. And that color is orange — yellow-infused, nearly-neon, pop-from-the-page orange. This tiger is not interested in camouflage, no ma’am! The other colors — browns and blacks and grays — serve as a foil for that orange, especially when Mr. Tiger is tiny and disdainful of his life in his proper town or, later, when he explores the wilderness.

It’s also all about pacing — three spreads of Mr. Tiger feeling trapped, three spreads on four legs, three spreads of acting crazy, one spread of naked tiger, three spreads of running away, two spreads of going nuts, one of missing home, and three of return, and one of seeing things at home changed just a bit. And, as with Max in Where the Wild Things Are, it was still hot.

Yes, when I read it aloud the second time, it hit me that Mr. Tiger is reminiscent of another wild thing. The story is similar — the longing for wildness and freedom which is balanced by the desire for home. The visual pacing, especially the adventures with the waterfalls and creatures in the wilderness and his later desire to be home, feels a bit like an homage to Max. Now, I have no idea if any of this was in the mind of Peter Brown, but I love feeling that connection, especially when it’s done in such an amusing and heartfelt way. Though I felt that connection, I imagine the author, who hails from a cramped city, was thinking more about the joys of the wild and the inevitable return home. It’s part of the joy of reading that the reader gets to connect with the story she reads, no matter what the author intended.

Enough psychology for one day.

Things I appreciate:

  • the use of humor (it’s hard not to laugh out loud at the naked Mr. T and, later, when he is clad in a Hawaiian shirt)
  • the way Brown intersperses busy pages where everything is small with the occasional spread that is all white space and tiger (the pages with four images of decreasing height, the all-fours tiger  and the spread with the newly-nude tiger)
  • the pacing, including the circular nature of the story
  • deft use of where the eyes are pointed (at the beginning, Mr. T can only look straight out)
  • subtle facial expressions (I especially love the page where the tiger is chasing his friends and they are smiling, as if they, too, might like to go wild, and the fountain page where Mr. Tiger sheds his clothing.)
  • the use of color (It’s a green, green world in that wilderness at first, but the green looks sad when he misses home.)
  • the theme (“Now Mr. Tiger felt free to be himself / And so did everyone else.”)

Have you been able to see this one yet? If so, what do you think about it? How does it stack up with the other titles you have read this year?


Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Angela Reynolds says:

    I’m working with a group of high school students doing a Mock Caldecott, and they really like this book. It is that use of color that they notice first. I really like asking them WHY — why do you think the artist did that? And the answer they gave me is that Mr. Tiger is wild, so he gets the color. Can’t wait to share with them your observations on this one.

  2. This is one that has grown on me over the months. I would love for your high schoolers to read Where the WIld Things Are alongside it to see if I am making up stuff.
    Once I see or feel a connection, I have trouble letting it go.

  3. Victoria Stapleton says:

    I’ll just leave this gem with you Robin:

  4. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Well shoot. I should have just let him talk…

  5. Susan Dailey says:

    What I loved was the use of shape–or maybe structure is a better word. The other characters are so uptight and upright. Then Brown gives us a hint of freedom in that curved tail when Mr. Tiger first goes on all fours. I also like the endpapers…and the quality of the paper is wonderful.

  6. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Oh and I TOTALLY forgot to talk about the cover! I meant to.
    Take off the paper cover and prepare to be wowed!

  7. Susan Dailey says:

    WOW!! Glad you pointed that out. I’d missed it.

  8. I like how he lets the typeface go wild, too. Love that hand-lettered display type in the huge speech bubble (“ROAR!”) when Mr. Tiger is fully free in the wilderness and has found his wild self.

    And I second the endpages. The opening pages show a brick wall, and the final ones show readers a field of grasses.

    Such a great book.

  9. Yes, the contrast between all that initial relentless verticality (buildings, chimneys, windows, upright animals, top hat) and the double-page spread where Mr. Tiger gets horizontal for the first time is really effective. Thanks so much for pointing that out, Susan!

  10. Sam Bloom says:

    I love this one. And I’m going to have to go to my local bookstore and sneak a peak under the paper cover (can’t do that with a library-bound one)!

  11. This one made our Mock Caldecott shortlist, and I don’t have much to add. I always love good end papers, and second the appreciation of the use of blocky, rigid shapes to oppose wild curves. I’m always a fan of Peter Brown’s work.

  12. This won our Mock Caldecott last night (UT-Austin iSchool)…it was close between it, IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE, and THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE, but the overall design aesthetic of TIGER won out. Everything (the cover, the palette, the typeface, that naked tiger centerfold) all just works together so perfectly!

  13. Francesca Mellin says:

    My third grade Mock Caldecott “committees” just finished looking at Mr. Tiger. My students really appreciated the pacing, the use of muted and bright colors to convey emotion, and those wonderful boxed-in-the-building speech bubbles that echo the animals’ uptight reactions to Mr. Tiger. As it happens, this was the first book we read after we examined Where the Wild Things Are as an example of the criteria in action, and boy, there are lots of similarities: Mr. Tiger and Max both going wild in wordless double-page spreads, their physical isolation when they discover they are lonely, and that last, text-only page that acts as a literary coda.

  14. I just love this book, period. So clever, so fun, so beautiful. My son enjoyed it and I’ve found him studying the illustrations carefully. I really appreciate Peter Brown’s creativity and sense of humor.

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