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Talking my eight-year-olds down from the ledge

mr tiger goes wildIt’s hard to know where to go when your second graders are more interested in figuring out why Mr. Tiger Goes Wild did not win a Caldecott than they are in telling you they missed you while you were in Philadelphia. No one wanted to tattle on each other or tell me long stories about their basketball games. They just wanted to Figure This Out. So, this post might be better on Lolly’s upcoming teacher blog (“Lolly’s Classroom” coming soon!), but let me tell you how I handled this one with my students.

I told them the truth. It wasn’t quite as hard as “Mom likes me more,” but it was close. Facts are facts: the committee liked the other books better.

Their response was quick: “But why??” Indeed.

My students and I had a LOOOONG discussion about Mr. Tiger and How This Might Have Happened. Since I have no idea what happened, I asked them. I turned on the voice memos on my phone and pushed record. Here are some of their transcribed comments:

I: “His back legs are always darker than the front.” (Cries of “that’s just the shadow!” erupted at this point.)

J: “The leaves in this book are like the leaves in The Curious Garden and in Grandpa Green.” 

C: “The leaves are like the leaves in I Want My Hat Back.” 

K: “I think the tiger was a little too wild, like it should have been called Mr. Tiger Goes Really Wild.” (I tried to stir up something with this, but was unable to.)

B: “I thought the book was not very bright when he went into the wild. I thought it should be a lot brighter. And I thought the inside cover should have been the paper cover.” (This cover idea was a much-discussed point during the discussion last week — my kids were nuts for the orange, black, and white tiger-striped cover. Go figure.)

G: “You know how you said the pictures need to show more than the words? The pictures are exactly what the words say. You could tell the story with no words at all.”

Well, well, well. My head exploded a little bit with G’s comment. I had to read the book twice to try to see if there might be something to this as a discussion point. I had to admit that G might be on to something here. I don’t necessarily agree with her, but I can definitely see how this could have taken up some time in the committee. The phrase “extending the text” is an important one when folks talk about picture books. On most spreads in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, the pictures show exactly what the words are saying and nothing more. I bet the committee hashed this one out.

Something else happened when I reread the book with my husband (bless his patience) for the zillion trillionth time. A question. Why did the whole town chill out and change while Mr. T was in the wild? I understand why Mr. T changes, but I can’t really explain from the words or the pictures why the rest of the town changed. They could not wait to send the wild tiger away.  Why the change of heart? That question might have come up in the committee, right? Also, the “…where he went completely wild!” spread is immediately followed by the “lonely in the field” wordless spread. That pacing seemed a tad rushed. Did someone on the committee notice this?

There is a wonderful thread that runs through Polly Horvath’s novel The Trolls where the characters are plagued with wonder about the beautiful man who just disappears. They spend the rest of their lives thinking of reasons why he left. I hope my students are not similarly plagued by “Why did a Caldecott NOT go to Mr. Tiger?” Because they will never know.

One thing they noticed and loved this time through — and this was noted by a child who never voted for Mr. Tiger at any time — was how much they appreciated these two spreads and how fun it was that they are the same image, really. No one noticed THAT before and it was a fun “AHA” moment for them.


photo 1Watching my kids worry over this reminded me of how it feels to be on the real committee. You love a book. Others have concerns. You answer those concerns as best you can, but you really listen to them. You have to decide if the concerns are enough to change your mind or not. You listen to the discussions of all the other books. Some people point out things you totally missed. You consider these new observations. You vote. You discuss more. You listen more. You vote again.

You practice saying, “The Committee chose Locomotive for the medal.” For the rest of your life, people will try to figure out why your committee chose this book over all the others. You can never say more.



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:

    Well said, 2nd grade! What a great experience for these kids and such an exercise in close, thoughtful looking.

  2. “I think the tiger was a little too wild” made me laugh. Recording the kids’ observations was a good idea.

  3. Sam Bloom says:

    This is really a great post, Robin – those impassioned comments from your students are priceless! Funny that all of the gnashing of teeth about Mr Tiger not getting anything (and I freely admit, I’m one of the teeth-gnashers) has resulted in the book being subject to a great deal of scrutiny! Not saying that’s a bad thing, just interesting and not something I expected.

  4. MR. TIGER GOES WILD virtually landed on every single Top Ten list from every reliable source of children’s books. While it didn’t squeeze into the Caldecott lineup to the surprise of many, it is a book that rewards and captivates children as I was reminded by this past week, re-reading it dramatically to some first-grade classes who just never seem to get enough of it. If there is any kind of a visual imperfection or mis-step of any kind, I am still looking for it, and have enlisted my wife, my own kids and teaching colleagues to do the same. I am not all all surprised that your daughter was entranced by it, and do know that kids are always asking about the administering of medals, some even expressing disappointment. I don’t remember who it was but someone had stated here that they thought the committee may have noticed some kind of an imperfection or there just wasn’t the prerequisite number of votes lining up behind the book. I am inclined to speculate it might have been the latter, but of course we will never know the answer.

    Yes, alas the committee did like the other books better (LOCOMOTIVE, JOURNEY, FLORA, WUFFLES each and every one a treasure for sure) but the lingering question for some is how it failed to snare what could have been two open spots on the Honor Book scroll. I know there is no set rule on the number of honors, and the way the voting goes a final winner has to get a consensus, but it still has me wondering. I actually believed at one point that MR. TIGER GOES WILD would actually win the Medal.

    The absolute favorite illustration in the book for the kids is the one where the tiger looks straight ahead standing on all fours in that glorious double page spread that preceded the page where he utters “What a magnificent Idea.” It always brings hearty laughs and affectionate regard.

    My own favorite is the exquisite ‘waterfalls’ canvas….”…..into the wilderness…”

    Wonderful post.

  5. KT Horning says:

    What a wonderful post, Robin! Such little pearls fall from your students’ mouths, and I’m so glad to thought to record them. I will be thinking about G’s comments for quite some time.

  6. Love this! Smart cookies. I had some quibbles that would have kept me from rallying behind it on the table, but hadn’t thought about the words and pictures being too entrenched. Wonderful insight. And: still an incredible book not ruined in the least by the lack of a medal.

    I showed a class of third graders the Caldecott portion of the awards today. Some knew the spoilers, some were surprised. The cheer for JOURNEY was bone shattering. A handful of boys were crossing their fingers for BATTLE BUNNY (ha!) and when LOCOMOTIVE was announced, one’s heartbreak got the better of him and he let out a “boooo.” It was a good-natured boo, and I thought it important for him to mourn that loss a little! But then! Another said, “Dude. That train book is the bomb AND so is the bunny one. All the books are awesome.”

    Couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Elisa Gall says:

    I can’t wait to share these responses with my 2nd graders, as they’ve also been wondering about Mr. Tiger and will be excited to see what other kids their age are thinking.

    In our post-announcement reflections, my students question the Hawaiian shirt: where did it come from, and how did the townspeople know that Mr. Tiger would be into it (since before that he was happy being naked)?

    Lots to consider, and lots we’ll never know! 🙂

  8. Rox Anne Close says:

    I am a second grade teacher too. I held a Mock Caldecott Medal vote in my classroom. I read all of the Caldecott books that were short listed to my class. Then they voted for their top five picks. They too, chose “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” as their top choice. They were so disappointed, when it wasn’t even a Caldecott Honor Book. My class was also wondering why “The Matchbox Diary” did not win any awards (their third choice). They said “The pictures are so detailed and beautiful.” They did vote for ‘Journey” as their second choice, and “Mr. Wuffles” as their fourth choice. Their fifth choice was ‘Sophie’s Squash”. When “Flora and the Flamigo” won, they said, “Yes, I can see how that won, it is a very creative book.”

  9. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Rox Anne,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I always love hearing from fellow second grade teachers.
    While, of course, no one will ever know why any particular book was not recognized by the committee, I think children are capable trying to figure it out.

    I, too, loved Matchbox Diary. (Teacher to teacher: we enjoyed the book so much that I bought tiny matchboxes and placed a special item inside. We then wrote about how that item was important to us and to others’ understanding of us. It was one of the best projects I have ever done with my students.) However, I am pretty sure a committee would see it as an illustrated book rather than a picture book. We talked about it a bit here: I have never successfully been able to articulate this idea on paper or with kids, but I do try every year.
    Now Sophie’s Squash (HOW I LOVE THIS BOOK) is a lot easier: the illustrator is Swiss, lives in Lausanne and has even been the Swiss nominee for the Hans Christian Anderson award. Ineligible, which is very easy to explain.

    And, for a fabulous description of the process, look about halfway down the comments here to see an excellent description of the whole dang process from committee member (and fabulous speaker about books) Judy Freeman.

    See if you can get your students to revisit the book (without telling them what my class said) with the eye of “What do you think the committee saw that made them choose other books?” Having a week or so to take a breath, it would be very interesting to hear what they notice now.
    I would love to hear. The committee looks at the books over and over and over and each time those eyes notice (for better or for worse) different details in the storytelling, illustrations and design. Your kids will too. It’s just fascinating, isn’t it?

    And, when they are all done:
    Have your kids count the number of stripes on the tiger’s tale from page to page. I bet this was a teeny–and by that I mean almost nonexistent– part of the decision. But, it might give your children a bit of that same feeling that committees have when one person notices something. This observation usually starts with ominous (and very very ALA) phrase, “It’s just a quibble, but…”

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