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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Locomotive: Compare and Contrast

apples and orangesOn Tuesday Robin took a second look at Journey and Mr. Wuffles!; today I am grouping another two books with, perhaps, little in common except their excellence, their top-notch production values, their presence on many mock Caldecott winning ballots—and the distinct possibility that they’ll find a place on the real Caldecott table in Philadelphia.

Can we first just ooh and ahh a bit over the bookmaking? Clearly, much care and thought has been put into Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Brian Floca’s Locomotive. Both have such a nice heft when you pick them up; both have high-quality paper and paper jackets; both have imaginatively different and very effective covers underneath. Locomotive, poignantly, shows the plains BEFORE the locomotive came along to change everything, a landscape simply teeming with bison; Mr. Tiger Goes Wild reveals a playful and striking pattern of closeup tiger stripes (and check out those ridges—extra fun). Both use the endpapers to great effect. Both are solidly constructed, with the signatures sewn in to the bindings, not glued in.

Well, I could wallow in these kinds of details all day, but…tick tock.

mr tiger goes wildMr. Tiger Goes Wild is everything a story picture book should be. It has pacing, humor, and something to say. Plot, theme, and artistic interpretation and development of same—all are coherent and of a piece. The verticals and rectangles and browns and lockstep behavior of the opening pages are unrelenting – except for the ORANGE of Mr. Tiger. Even unhappy, he is orange. There is hope. Then comes the double-page spread – “And then one day / Mr. Tiger had / a very / wild idea” – where four images of Mr. Tiger sink progressively lower and lower across the page, his eyes looking left, then right, then up, then … DOWN – to the glorious page turn where we see Mr. Tiger on all fours for the first time. And from here it’s all forward propulsion – compositions and action that take our own eyes from left to right:  across town, across the fountain, and into the wilderness. First alone, and then with friends. What could be better? And what a magnificent book.

One element Mr. Tiger has in common with Locomotive are the page turns. Both books use this crucial component of the picture book form expertly, controlling the pacing and propelling readers forward through the book (and, conversely, they know how to keep readers dwelling on a page when something really important is being communicated: see the “Now Mr. Tiger felt free to be himself” page, for instance, where the tiger’s outward gaze holds our own and makes us linger).

locomotive1I would argue that no book this year does page turns better than Locomotive. Whether it’s the angle of the track or the anticipation on a character’s face or the placement of the text—Floca’s use of page turns powers this book the way the train’s engine propels it across the Plains. (I went into greater detail about it here.) Beyond the genius of the page turns, Locomotive is simply spectacular. I think Julie Danielson summed up Locomotive best when she noted its combination of epic and intimate — with Floca telling the epic story of the American transcontinental railroad AND the personal story of one family’s journey, all in one cohesive picture book. While Mr. Tiger’s art uses stylized geometrical shapes that suit that book’s playfulness, Locomotive employs aptly realistic illustrations that suit the topic. But it doesn’t stop there. It augments the art, using typefaces to emphasize the book’s epic quality (those large, over-the-top sound-effect typefaces) and its intimate quality (the smaller, handwritten location IDs).

Of course, these books aren’t perfect. I’ve heard criticism of things getting lost in the gutter in Mr. Tiger. I don’t see it. Every time an object is cut in two by the gutter, it’s always right down the center, and there is ALWAYS enough bulk in the divided object (elephant, Tiger, building, tree) that nothing is actually “lost.”

As to Locomotive, yes, those typefaces are loud and attention-getting. But to my mind they are never gratuitous, and they are carefully placed within the book design. As to the idea that, although the train is supposed to be traveling from east to west, often it passes from left to right in the book — doesn’t that depend on the viewer’s perspective? If you are standing on the north side of the tracks, for instance, a train traveling from left to right IS traveling west. (And notice that Floca is careful to place his traveling family on such a platform.)

Close scrutiny is the name of the game in Caldecott deliberations. I feel confident that these two books can survive it. As well, of course, as so many other worthy titles this year: Nino Wrestles the World, On a Beam of Light, Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?, The Mighty Lalouche, Building Our House … too many to name here. Good luck to all the books on the Caldecott table this year!

We’re just about to head into our own voting. Please, use this opportunity to talk about your own favorite picture books of 2013 in the comments below. Who knows, you may sway someone’s opinion and change his/her vote — just as a persuasive member of the Caldecott committee might change the opinion of her/his fellows.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Martha, I wanted to add Melissa Sweet’s magnificent A SPLASH OF RED to the above lineup. I just can’t see nor fathom that this feast for the eyes won’t bring the distinguished artist her second Caldecott Honor. Such a beautiful book, and a deserving chance to follow up her win for the Williams Carlos Williams book.

    As far as LOCOMOTIVE and MR. TIGER GOES WILD I really do believe (without sounding cocky) that they are 100% certain Caldecott Honors. Either could even win the gold if JOURNEY should falter. But all three are in for either medal.

    Both books are gorgeously illustrated, though of course they are far different in some vital ways.

  2. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Yes, Sam, I agree with you about A SPLASH OF RED …. and in addition to the titles I mentioned above, I also appreciate The Dark, Odd Duck, Parrots over Puerto Rico … and there are probably more!

  3. Great to hear that from you Martha! Thanks so much for the heads up on the others. I have not yet seen ODD DUCK nor PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO. I will move to secure them from the local library system ASAP. THE DARK is exceptional for sure, agreed there.

  4. Angela Reynolds says:

    I must weigh in here, as Mr. Tiger has really won me over. There are so many things that point to excellence in this book: from the brick end papers at the front and the “wild” end papers at the back; the contrasting pages where Mr. Tiger first gets that idea to try walking on all 4’s & the page where he is “naked”; the pages where “Mr. Tiger became wilder an wilder each day” and “…where he went completely wild!” — there are many instances where we see tame Mr. T and wild Mr. T contrasted brilliantly. The use of the limited color palette and how color denotes where the eye should focus is another of the bits of ‘excellence’ I see in this book. That tiger-striped cover under the cover seals it for me– underneath, aren’t we all a little wild? Go, Mr. Tiger!

  5. Sam Bloom says:

    Nicely done, Martha – and I appreciate you highlighting two of my very favorites here right before the voting. I feel like this has been a really, really strong year in the Caldecott field; I can think of 10-15 books that I would be THRILLED to hear announced the Monday after next. I have to say, though, you can never be too sure of anything, Sam! These two (along with JOURNEY) are fabulous, I agree, but the committee is looking at EVERYthing over and over and over again. Anything can happen. None of those books could win, who knows? How many people really believed Hugo Cabret would win in 2008?

  6. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Angela, thanks so much for weighing in. I’m going to go back and look right now at how color dictates where the eye should focus in *Mr. Tiger.* And I love what you said about the cover! Such a perfect reinforcement of the theme.

  7. From one Sam to another—-

    Sam—-I am completely with you on the remarkable Caldecott crop being considered in this year’s voting, and like you I can name at least a dozen books that would have me over the moon if announced. I did actually predict that THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET would win that year (one of my proudest achievements. Ha!) but I have been wrong so many other times, and it’s true that there is no certainty here. They are an unpredictable as the election of a pope. However, hear me out on why I am a bit more certain in this one year:

    1.) Peter Brown won an Honor for CREEPY CARROTS, which was delightful. His art was real nice and the kids loved it, but he has gone above and beyond with MR. TIGER GOES WILD, which has landed on every ten best list, and is universally loved and admired by kids, teachers, librarians and book lovers. The committees always like to take an illustrator who wins an Honor and then go with either another Honor and the gold on the second try, especially when said illustrator has improved on his prior work drastically. It doesn’t seem possible that the committee could balk on Brown, who they obviously like quite a bit.

    2.) JOURNEY has been praised to high heaven far and wide–most consider it an absolute masterpiece. The style and content of the book -not to mention that it’s wordless- has traditionally impressed the Caldecott committees of the past, and Becker is a sweetheart of a guy to boot. If Vegas was to take action on the Caldecotts, I might put of my house that the book will place, though as I say it is probably the favorite for the gold medal, with a silver at the very least.

    3.) LOCOMOTIVE like the other two has been spectacularly-praised, it would be the sure non-fiction book and the best of the “train” books (I do like Rocco’s as well) and would FINALLY give Brian Floca well-deserved respect. There is even an outside chance that the book will win in the tradition of SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, though non-fiction winners for the big prize are relatively rare. The book has proabably received more stupendous praise than any recent non-fiction book in memory.

    It all translates to what I see as a rarity: Three locks.

    The real challenge the way I see it is to pick the other honor books. I think there will be five Honors, and I think it could be A SPLASH OF RED, STARDINES and THE MATCHBOX DIARY.

    But THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE, ON A BEAN OF LIGHT, THE DARK, MR. WUFFLES, TORTOISE, BLUEBIRD, MOONDAY and several others are all quite possible.

    I may be presumptuous with this bold call, and will admit the errors of my ways if proven wrong. But I do think we have three in the bag here, with all due respect my friend.

  8. Sam Bloom says:

    Well, your enthusiasm certainly is catching, Sam #1 – I’m feeling pretty charged up about the announcement (just ten days away)! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your picks really do come true… and there will be no need to admit defeat if any of these books does not receive a medal. They’ll be still be awesome even if their covers are unadorned with the shiny stuff!
    -Sam #2

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