What is it about tigers at sea that captures the imagination so? Yann Martel's Life of Pi, in which a boy is trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger, won a Booker prize, was a minor phenomenon and is occasionally taught in classrooms. It's also being made into a film, directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee and starring Irrfan Khan and Tabu. The idea has clearly struck a chord. I was reminded of Life of Pi when I first picked up Michal Kozlowski's Louis the Tiger Who Came from the Sea. There's just something so incongruous about a big cat in the ocean that makes for good fantastical fodder.
In Louis, brother and sister Ollie and Ali wake one morning to find a tiger in their front yard, soaking wet and fast asleep. They assume, because of the way he rocks back and forth, that he came from the sea, and decided his name must be Louis. "You can tell by the white patch on his chin and the way his whiskers tickle his nose." When the family forgets to close the door behind them, Louis makes himself at home, curling up in front of their fireplace. Eventually, the family decides they must help Louis return to the sea. After dismissing a few ideas, they decide to dress up as sea creatures and lead Louis back themselves.
There is a lot to enjoy in Louis. The art, by illustrator Sholto Walker, is at turns cute, playful and beautiful. The final image of the family, all dressed in their sea creature costumes gazing out at the ocean at sunset is manages to be all three. The tiger is drawn with great detail, and a wonderfully expressive face. Any cat owner would recognize the looks of hunger, contentment and suspicion in Louis' eyes. The colors throughout are very inviting, bright greens and purples that fill the space and make a nice contrast to the large, orange tiger.
The fantasy of it all is endearing as well. The idea that a tiger who came from the sea would of course want to luxuriate in a bathtub is very childlike, and perfectly understandable. It also strikes a chord of wish fulfillment. Can you blame Ollie for skipping his bath because there's a tiger in it? I appreciated the fact that the tiger was still tiger-like. He roars and stretches like a real big cat, and though Louis shows signs of being unusual (like the bath), he still feels like a wild animal. It's a good book to read aloud, one I'm sure I'll use for my story time in the future. Kids will enjoy the silliness that comes with having a tiger in the house and find amusement in the final solution. After all, those sea creature costumes are mighty funny.
Louis the Tiger Who Came From the Sea by Michal Kozlowski
2011, Annick Press
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