I’ve mentioned Kate DiCamillo before, author of Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Desperaux and many other wonderful books for middle grade kids. She’s one of my favorites.

            Recently, in an interview by the New York Times, Kate was asked which of her books was her favorite. She mentioned a lesser-known, short novel, The Tiger Rising. And it is a gem.

            One of the things I admire about this book is the way the beginning pulls you right into the middle of the story. Let me share the very first paragraph:

1

That morning, after he discovered the tiger, Rob went and stood under the Kentucky Star Motel sign and waited for the school bus just like it was any other day…Finding the tiger had been luck, he knew that. He had been out in the woods behind the Kentucky Star Motel, way out in the woods, not really looking for anything, just wandering, hoping that maybe he would get lost or get eaten by a bear and not have to go to school ever again. 

           Are you hooked? I was. And that’s just the beginning!

           In the first, brief chapter ( 3 ½ pages) we learn:

  • Rob found the tiger locked in a cage in the middle of the woods.
  • Rob has an itchy red rash on his legs.
  • Rob and his father had just moved to the Kentucky Star Motel after his mother had died.
  • Rob is afraid to get on the school bus because Norton and Billy Threemonger are waiting to torment him and tease him about the rash.
  • Rob has not cried about his mother since the funeral.

           The first chapter ends with this paragraph, as Rob is waiting for the school bus:

Rob had a way of not-thinking about things. He imagined himself as a suitcase that was too full, like the one that they packed when they left Jacksonville after the funeral. He made all his feelings go inside the suitcase; he stuffed them in tight and then sat on the suitcase and locked it shut. That was the way he not-thought about things. Sometimes it was hard to keep the suitcase shut. But now he had something to put on top of it. The tiger.

            DiCamillo has such an empathetic way of pulling us into Rob’s world, to see and feel his plight and root for him.

            This story reminds me of a brief poem by Rumi:

Great tigers can find peace in a cage.

But we should only do that as a last resort.

 

So those bars I see that restrain your wings,

I guess you won’t mind

If I pry them open.

            The real question of this story is: Will Rob escape from the cage of fear and grief he is living in? Will he rise? And will the tiger somehow help him in that escape?

            It’s a beautiful story. Check it out!