There’s something very Disney-like about the picture book THE TIGER LIKE ME and that’s a good thing. Readers will take one look at the cover and immediately teleport back to the hand-drawn classics. Naturally The Jungle Book springs to mind, but also Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and others from Disney’s deep canon. Writer and illustrator Kelsey Lee has a classicist’s touch—rich line quality, shading with depth, a rich, naturalistic color palate, and personality to spare. And at 34 pages, the book doesn’t skimp on artwork or storytelling, though the latter could stand a little more tension or conflict. Still, there’s plenty here to keep the 3-8-year olds entranced.
THE TIGER LIKE ME starts off with a contemporary bang, so much so that readers might anticipate a Message Book. Abhi has an adventurer’s soul which makes her stand out from her sisters, seven girls who “are all the same.” Among these replicants, Abhis stands out. While her sisters play inside, Abhi dances in the rain. And though never fleshed out, it seems Abhi is a princess with zero interest in royalty. Much to her mother’s dismay, Abhi shuns dressing like one, preferring pants to skirts. She admits she doesn’t “want to be pretty” as she balances on a wooden fence as her mother reaches for her, pleading with her to come down and, it’s inferred, be more like her sisters.
So right away, THE TIGER LIKE ME has got loads of appeal for children who dance to the beat of their own drummer, the outcasts, the originals and the rebels. The book takes great pride in individualism over conformity and little tomboys will be on board from page two. Abhi has a gender-neutral look that children can project themselves onto easily, a nice touch and wise strategy. Abhi juggles snakes, dresses up in safari garb, and wrangles fish. But it’s when she’s dared to go into the jungle that the book gets on with its business. The tiger of the title doesn’t show up until almost halfway through. But they hit it off instantly and the duo discover the wonders of the placeless geography.
Problem is, readers are set up for a big adventure that never really happens. It’s more like a nature tour, running into monkeys swinging from vines and more tigers. There’s never any real danger, just scenes from a casual exploration. The text sneaks in a few messages here and there (We may be diverse but deep down we’re all the same) in simple aa/bb rhyme scheme. But the rhythm of the words isn’t always quite on beat, so those reading it aloud might have trouble finding and keeping the beat. Eventually Abhi’s waving goodbye to the tiger and going back home from the adventure, such as it is. The excitement level is low in TIGER, but there’s something to be said about a quiet tale of discovery amid all the bang and flash detailed in a lot of children’s books. For a walk in the park, it’s not bad.
With a slightly repetitive tale, THE TIGER LIKE ME will still enchant the little ones–especially those with a rebellious bent–thanks to an empowering story and rich and colorful illustrations.
~Steven Foster for IndieReader