The most rewarding, and the most difficult journey in life is to become who we are. For a lucky few, it’s no journey at all, for others, it takes years if not decades to shed the layers that mask our true selves. There are many pressures to conform, to fit in, and we adapt our personalities in ways which can often feel fraudulent. In Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown masks his protagonist in a waistcoat and top hat. He also makes him a tiger; a very proper, and very bored tiger.
In Mr. Tiger’s monochromatic world, everyone and everything is strictly controlled. His neighbours (elephants, rhinos, horses, etc.,) are exceedingly polite, spouting banal salutations and admonishing children to ‘please not act like wild animals.’ Even the houses are conformist, lining up one after the other in dull lockstep. No one, it would seem, is having much fun. Peter Brown really nails the desperate house-cat expression on Mr. Tiger’s face as he stares out a window, longing for freedom. His ennui is palpable.
And then, Mr. Tiger does something radical. From an upright position, he slowly crouches down until all four paws are on the ground, like a tiger. He is instantly released. It’s a courageous and defiant declaration of his tiger-self, and it is as exhilarating for the reader as it is for the tiger. Eventually, he sheds all clothes, leaping through town wearing nothing but his fur. His inner tiger has now been fully outed. The town is mortified, and suggests he take his exuberance to the wilderness. And so he does, exploring his new world with fresh, authentic eyes. What Mr. Tiger will soon discover is that he left more than his clothes at home, and as for the town, well…a tiger gone tiger is simply impossible to ignore.
Peter Brown’s illustrations are fantastically fun and inventive. Jubilant, in fact, like Mr. Tiger after he’s dropped trou. In ink, watercolour, gouache, and pencil, the art has a flat, two-dimensional tone not unlike Jon Klassen’s work, but with a richer, wilder palette. This is particularly true in the lavish and incredibly beautiful jungle scenes punctuated by waterfalls and swaths of whimsical greenery. There is little continuity of style or content amongst Mr. Brown’s books; an impressive feat of creativity over a relatively short period of time. Aside from a certain familiarity of expression, and a fondness for simplified imagery and squared-off tree canopies, there is no direct line from Flight of the Dodo to Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. Include The Curious Garden, Children Make Terrible Pets and Creepy Carrots and you have an artist whose true distinction is visual excellence, and a skewed sense of humour. A distinction that has served him, and us, very, very well.
The premise of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (minus the waistcoat and top-hat) is, coincidentally, the gist of a hilarious Chris Rock rant from a few years ago. Referring to the infamous Siegfried & Roy tiger attack in Las Vegas (and the ensuing hyperbolic headlines) where the star attraction, a 380 pound white tiger, attempted to remove Roy’s jugular from his bedazzled neck, Chris remarks, “Tiger didn’t go crazy, tiger went tiger!” The tiger, startled by a break in the routine, and quite possibility, a sudden existential awakening, becomes who he is, a wild bengal tiger. Mr. Brown’s tiger is a far more peaceable fellow, but the story is the same: we can’t tame our essential selves. We can suppress it for awhile, dress it up, but eventually, with a little courage, we all go tiger. Hear us ROAR!
Mr. Peter Brown lives in Brooklyn, NY. His book Creepy Carrots was nominated for a 2013 Caldecott medal.
On October 3rd, Peter wrote in his blog about his inspirational journey to Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. It’s fascinating, and well worth a read!
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, published by Little, Brown 2013
Click to read my reviews:
Creepy Carrots by Peter Brown (Little, Brown 2012)
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Little, Brown 2009)