Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown is the story of a tiger who becomes bored with behaving properly. One day, Mr. Tiger decides to ignore the expectations that society has for him and “go wild.” In the process, Mr. Tiger inspires others in his community to loosen up.
One might expect a picture book with the plot that I have just described to feel too messagey: “BE TRUE TO YOURSELVES, KIDS! BE TRUE TO YOURSELVES!” To the contrary. Brown skillfully avoids delivering a heavy handed message by entertaining readers with unexpected plot twists (e.g. “If you must act wild, kindly do so in the wilderness!”) and humor.
This story’s humor begins on page one, where Brown depicts the prim and proper characters who inhabit Mr. Tiger’s city. In Brown’s illustrations, we see animals wearing old-fashioned suits and dresses complete with top hats and bustles. From Brown’s illustrations, it is apparent that these animals are expected to walk upright and avoid eye contact. These animals exchange prim and proper dialog that is both funny and fun to read aloud.
Mr. Tiger expresses his boredom with the current adherence to convention by looking with a consistent, deadpan expression straight at readers. This feels analogous to the technique by actors in comedy T.V. series who, for humorous effect, express their frustration by looking straight at the camera and rolling their eyes.
Brown tells this story very effectively through a combination of text, dialog and illustration. For example, the sentence: “Mr. Tiger was bored with always being so proper.” is followed by a series of illustrations depicting Mr. Tiger looking bored and a panel with dialog depicting Mr. Tiger sounding bored.
Brown has chosen to convey two key plot twists via illustrations rather than via text. Brown shows rather than tells readers that Mr. Tiger has chosen to no longer conform with expectations about how he should act with a two-page illustration of Mr. Tiger walking on (gasp!) four legs, rather than two. Brown later shows rather than tells readers that Mr. Tiger has taken things a step further with a two-page illustration of Mr. Tiger posing proudly sans clothes.
One thing that really stands out about Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is Brown’s effective use of color to help tell the story. Brown uses a limited color pallet in two ways. First, the color pallet is used to highlight Mr. Tiger and illustrate the fact that Mr. Tiger does not fit in with the prim and proper characters that surround him. Throughout the first half of the book, Brown uses browns and greys to depict the city buildings and animal characters – aside from Mr. Tiger. In sharp contrast, Mr. Tiger is bright orange.
Second, the color pallet is used to illustrate the transformation that occurs when Mr. Tiger goes wild. When Mr. Tiger goes wild, he heads off to the wilderness, which Brown has painted in shades of green, blue and salmon. When Mr. Tiger returns to the city, he brings these colors back to the city with him.
While many illustrators stick with a consistent medium to illustrate all of their books, Brown varies the medium he uses. In The Curious Garden, Brown used thick paint to give his garden images a rich, lush feel. In Creepy Carrots, Brown used pencil and line to create expressive, cartoon characters. In this latest book of his, Brown has chosen to use “India ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper…digitally composited and colored.” I do not know what to make of Brown’s choice. This choice of media neither adds to nor detracts from the book for me.
It is hard to avoid mentioning that Brown’s illustrations in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild look very similar to Jon Klassen’s signature style: abstract plants, lots of texture, washes of color, a muted color scheme and paint splattered throughout. This is not problematic for me. I am a big fan of Klassen’s illustrations, and, if Brown too is a fan and wants to try out aspects of Klassen’s style, I see no problem with this. Artists borrow ideas from each other all the time.
Brown’s illustrations in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild are masterfully rendered – not a poor imitation of Klassen’s work – and distinct from Klassen’s illustrations in a couple of ways. The color scheme that Brown uses in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is warmer than the color scheme Klassen typically chooses. However, what distinguishes Brown’s work most from Klassen’s work is Brown’s characters. Brown’s characters have a certain amount of heft, fun facial expressions and feel consistent with Brown’s past work.
The only shortcoming with this book in my mind is that a couple transitions near the end of the story feel abrupt. I would have appreciated some support in either the text or illustrations a) to demonstrate that Mr. Tiger went “a little too far” when he disrobed and b) to explain why things began to change when Mr. Tiger returned to the city. That said, Brown clearly values brevity: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is a mere 20 sentences in length. Within the confines of this approach, there is little room for elaboration.
I also think that Mr. Tiger Goes Wild lacks the originality of The Curious Garden. This will not stop me from recommending Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and doing so enthusiastically. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is a beautifully illustrated, humorous story with broad appeal and a nice message.
Recommended for: Ages 3 to 8. Kids who are a bit wild themselves or who stand out from the crowd in other ways may relate to Mr. Tiger.
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