Tigers in Children’s Books

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo


“This isn’t right, for this tiger to be in a cage. It’s not right.”

“We can’t do nothing about it,” Rob said.

“We could let him go,”…

“We could set him free.”

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo is a super starting point to studying literature with a class. It is full of metaphor and symbolism. Whilst exploring the woods behind his home, Rob finds a tiger locked in a cage. He shares his find with his friend Sistine, a feisty girl who seems the very opposite to Rob. Rob is kept caged by feelings, which since his mother died, he cannot express. Sistine is caged by the lack of control she has over her home and where she and her mother will move next. The description of the caged tiger is powerful and DiCamillo invokes Blake’s poem Tiger Tiger.  ‘Burning bright’, the tiger paces up and down its cage and when Rob is given the keys he has some decisions to make. Sistine spurs him on and together they open the cage. The tiger ‘stepped with grace and delicacy out of the cage’ and then runs off into the woods, his muscles moving ‘like a river’ (114). Of course, the tiger cannot be left to roam freely and it is shot dead. The children bury him and the future seems promising ‘with the light of the morning sun’ (126).

I do wish there had been a line or two about Rob returning to school in the hope of learning all he could about protecting tigers or at least a list of charities for children to learn more about tigers (then maybe Rob could have contacted them to ask advice). Anyway, the tiger’s death is actually rather meaningless in the story. He is buried and the children move on. The big question to ask children is ‘What would you do if you were Rob?’

There are lots of reading guides online. I liked this one by Candlewick Press. However, try to encourage your class to think about the relevance of the story to endangered species, animals in captivity and attitudes towards animals.

For example:

Through research, Sistine discovers tigers are an endangered species. Why are tiger numbers declining?

Beauchamp thinks he might use the tiger as an attraction for his motel or kill it for its fur. What laws are in place to protect tigers?

Beauchamp is given the tiger as payment for a debt he is owed and tells Rob that ‘That’s the way real men do business. In tigers’.  How can money be made protecting animals rather than exploiting them?

Maybe if Rob had read these books by Born Free he could have made a real difference to the life of the tiger…

My students have been waiting for these books! It has not been easy to find an interesting and very readable non-fiction series for the Grade 2 to Grade 5 age group. So, I am very happy to have this series published by Orion in partnership with the Born Free Foundation.

Each book retells a rescue mission undertaken by Born Free. The reader is quickly drawn into each desperate situation: from orphaned bear cubs who survive floods and starvation to ex-circus and zoo animals who have only known iron bars and maltreatment. First, concerned people draw attention to their plights and then Born Free work with teams across the world to find the best, most natural environments for these beautiful creatures.

Sometimes the rescues take years. The foundation must negotiate the animals ‘release’, find temporary homes, ensure they are healthy enough to travel and then find the money and complete all the necessary paperwork to transport the animals often thousands of miles to the most natural and caring environment they can find. Children learn that with determination even the most terrible situations can be changed.

Before reading  Born Free: Tiger Rescue by Louisa Leaman I showed this ‘selfie with tiger’ and asked the students:

What do you see?

What do you think?

What do you wonder?

Boy with a tiger By Marcy | Published December 18, 2011

Reasons why the boy was able to ‘hug’ the tiger included:

The tiger is friends with the boy.

The tiger is dead.

The tiger is asleep.

I prompted the students to tell me facts they knew about tigers. How could an animal with such sharp teeth and claws be treated like a pet?  We had a very lively discussion for over 30 minutes as some students insisted the tiger was friendly and almost convinced the entire class that this was possible. However, one boy stood his ground and said the photo must be a fake because tigers are dangerous and wouldn’t want anyone leaning across them.  With the class buzzing to learn more about the photo I started to read the book.

The children followed the story of Roque, a tiger sold in a pet shop in Barcelona in 1998 and his eventual release into a tiger sanctuary in India. They were incensed that these creatures could be bought so easily and compared the habitat of wild tigers with those in the ‘entertainment’ industry. It was a great link to the habitats unit they were doing in their PYP class and I hope, if mum and dad ever said ‘let’s go and see the tigers’ they would have plenty to say about how the body and spirit of a majestic, wild creature is broken for the sake of a photo opportunity.

Children are naturally caring and want to see animals up close. Classmates were impressed when others said they had ridden elephants and swam with dolphins.  These books are so important to have in a school library.  They are so well written, with lots of information and exciting stories to follow.


Adopt a tiger like Roque or choose your favourite Born Free animal here.








Tiger, Tiger by Melvin Burgess

Tiger Tiger is about tigers living in a tiger park in the Yorkshire Dales, UK. I thought the opening was very dramatic as visitors gather to witness the captive tigers kill sheep. The blood thirsty scenes are very realistic and one can imagine the spectators getting very excited about watching a sheep being torn to shreds by a tiger. The commentator, dressed as a safari ranger, justifies the spectacle as ‘One day these animals are going to have to fend for themselves. No-one is going to fetch them butcher’s meat in the wild” (1) and this is the beginning of a interesting twist – there is no intention to release these tigers as they are making the park a lot of money. The tigers have also attracted the interest of a Chinese man, Lee Yung, who believes the bones of one the tigers, Lila, will cure his cancer. Steve, a teenage boy, who is drawn to Lila, a spirit tiger, is going to help save her but Lila who can change into a human doesn’t really need his help. She is quite capable of killing Lee Yung and his gang all by herself…

I thought the descriptions of the tigers hunting the sheep were very dramatic but I felt rather let down by the fantasy element. I guess if some people think ‘tiger medicine’ is a magical cure then a tiger who can change into a human and hunt down those who are driving the species to extinction can lend itself to a novel. It is short and fast paced and worth a read.


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