Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco (9780399173295)
A remarkable picture book about saying goodbye to summer with one final September camping trip that just happens to involve a tiger. A boy heads out on a camping trip with his older brother and his parents. He is dreading the end of summer and going to first grade. They arrive at Mountain Pond, filled with lots of quiet and nature. But as they are setting up the tents, a tiger enters their camp. It’s a real tiger who talks. The tiger asks if they have another tent that he could use as he feels cold now even in his cave. The family sets it up and the boy climbs in along with the tiger. They nestle together for a time. The tiger stays all weekend with the family, going on hikes, heading out in the canoe, even helping with the fishing. But then, the tiger is gone. The family heads back home, but it’s a trip that no one will ever forget.
I am trying not to simply gush in superlatives about this book. Choi captures the tension of growing up, of wishing time would stand still, of hating the new responsibilities of chores, and longing for kindergarten again. She writes of that with a clarity and ease that honors the child’s feelings. Then the tiger enters, realistic and bold, and at first readers try to puzzle out if the talking tiger is real or not. By the end of the book, it doesn’t matter. Just knowing the tiger, experiencing the tiger was enough. It doesn’t have to be answered as they head back to school and home.
Rocco’s illustrations are just as well done as the text. His illustrations make the tiger almost more realistic than the humans in the story. The tiger swims, sits in firelight, snuggles close, and weighs down the canoe. The final night they have together is filled with starlight and quiet that Rocco captures so beautifully.
Surreal and realistic in the best possible mash-up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.