“The Tiger Rising” by Kate DiCamillo is the third DiCamillo book I’ve read, and my least favorite. This is not to say that it wasn’t a good read, but compared to the others, “The Tiger Rising” fell a little flat.
“The Tiger Rising” is the story about a 6th grade boy filled with sadness, and a little girl filled with anger. These new friends have a big decision to make regarding the freedom of a caged tiger. While they wrestle with this decision, they both face the memories that have made them into the sad and angry children that they are, and through this journey, they find freedom. DiCamillo transports the reader to the setting of the story, Florida, and has a unique gift in helping the reader to grapple some of life’s biggest questions. I’ll discuss those themes below.
If you’ve read any of DiCamillo’s books, you’ll already know her signature style. She asks tough questions and fills her books with emotion. I enjoyed the plot and setting. However, I would have liked to see more of an ending, as it felt a little rushed. I also would have liked to see a better outcome for the tiger, but that’s a very biased opinion, and I’m fully aware of that fact. I didn’t connect to the characters very well, and found myself wondering what it was specifically that made me feel distant to them. Even now as I write this review, I still haven’t pinpointed the issue.
Recommended Age Group?
The publisher’s recommended age group is 10-12 (grades 4-7 in Canada). I agree
with this age group.
As with most of DiCamillo’s books, there are heavy and important themes in this novel: loss of a loved one, broken families, holding onto anger and sadness, and bullying. Rob Horton, the main character, loses his mother to illness, and Sistine, another main character, is dealing with the divorce of her parents. Both of these characters are trying to find their place in a new city while also struggling with bullying. While these themes are mostly written in kid-friendly language, there is some mild language and mention of smoking, an affair, and hate.
There are happy themes in this novel as well. Friendships are made and both Rob and Sistine learn how to let go of some of the sadness and anger that they’re carrying.
This book is classroom-approved, but best suited for grades 5-7.
Your students will enjoy making predictions about what will happen to the tiger. There are also many topics and questions that give rise to debate. For example, Rob wonders if it’s okay to keep animals caged, which then gives the students an opportunity to dig deeper and think about zoos. This novel may not be action packed, but it will definitely make your students think about the emotions they might be carrying and how they can find freedom from those burdens.
As always, I recommend pre-reading the novel and then making a decision based on your group of students. You know your students best, and you would know whether the themes in this particular book would trigger unwanted emotions in your students.