Friday, August 08, 2008

Book Review: The Tiniest Tiger by Joanne L. McGonagle

Title: The Tiniest Tiger
Author: Joanne L. McGonagle
Publisher: BookSurge, March 2008, 52 pages, paperback
Age: 4-8 years

In The Tiniest Tiger, Joanne L. McGonagle tells the story, in words and pictures, of a kitten who can't find his way home from the zoo. As he goes from the enclosure of one big cat to another, he discovers what makes them different from each other - and from him. He doesn't belong with any of them. Will he ever find a home that's right for him?

The illustrations in The Tiniest Tiger are beautiful. McGonagle renders eight large cats in colorful double-page spreads with detail and accuracy. She also slips in key facts about each cat (its native habitat, weight, life span, litter size, and status on the endangered species list) in drawings of the signs at each animal's enclosure.

The story is interesting with its kitten on a quest and cast of large cats. McGonagle has done a good job of giving many of these cats personality, even in their brief appearance. But the ending felt contrived to me. And the kitten, with whom I think the reader is meant to identify, doesn't ring quite true. His way of talking is super-polite and a bit too formal to feel as young as he is supposed to be.

The book's information says its target audience is four to eight years. I felt the often-sophisticated vocabulary ("organized social groups," "coloration," "intimidating," proportion," "exhausted") and long sentences would make it a better read-aloud than a self-read book for this age group (several typical paragraphs I put through an analysis tool came out at a Grade 4+ reading level). The intended adult co-audience is also borne out by the subtle adult humor in the text (e.g. "We are not chubby. We are big-boned and muscular. Stocky is the preferred term" and "Cleopatra eyeliner") and the quotes at the beginning of the book.

Also in the age suitability department, there were places where the author introduced words but failed to explain them (e.g."canine teeth" and "cheek ruffs"). Four- to eight-year-olds don't typically do research on their own, so a glossary defining special vocabulary would have been helpful.

Under the guise of a story about a lost kitten, The Tiniest Tiger delivers lots of valuable information about big cats and a message about the importance of preserving endangered large-cat species. It's sure to be a popular choice with conservation-minded teachers and parents.


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