The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo - Book cover art
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press

The Tiger Rising, a National Book Award finalist, has a darker tone than Kate DiCamillo's first book Because of Winn-Dixie, a Newbery Honor Book. The characters are dealing with some weighty issues: grief, anger, and isolation. Twelve-year-old Rob Horton and his father moved to Lister, Florida six months ago after the death of Rob's mother from cancer. They are barely eking out a living at the Kentucky Star Motel where Rob's dad works and they both live.

Since the day of his mother's funeral when his father slapped him for crying, Rob has tried to suppress all his feelings.

"He imagined himself as a suitcase that was too full, like the one he had 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."

Rob's life consists of running from bullies at school, scratching the rash that has developed on his lower legs, and keeping a lid on his emotions. Willie May, the motel's housekeeper warns Rob, "You keeping all that sadness down low in your legs. You not letting it get up to your heart, where it belongs." His father is so consumed by grief, he can't even say his wife's name.

Into Rob's life comes something extraordinary that will change everything. Out in the woods, he discovers a caged tiger. Shortly thereafter, he meets Sistine, a girl whose parents' recent divorce has led her mother to return to Lister with Sistine.

Sistine is consumed with anger, which she freely expresses. Where Rob runs from bullies, Sistine fights back. She is overflowing with visible emotions, in sharp contrast to Rob.

The caged tiger becomes a metaphor for Rob's suppressed emotions. The story of how the two children free the tiger, with shocking results, and free Rob to grieve, is bittersweet.

This is a book that, once started, is hard to put down. Once again, Kate DiCamillo has done an excellent job in creating realistic and engaging characters. I would recommend The Tiger Rising for ages 10 to 13 (grade 5-8).  For more about the book, see the Scholastic Tiger Rising Discussion Guide. (Candlewick Press, paperback edition, 2002. ISBN:9780763618988) The book is also available as an audiobook (ISBN: ISBN 9780307284235) and in several e-book formats.

More Books for Middle Grade Readers by Kate DiCamillo

Since her first two books were published, Kate DiCamillo has written a number of books in different genres and for different age ranges.  They include picture books and beginning reader books. Her books for middle grade readers include two for which she was awarded the prestigious John Newbery Medal: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread and Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. I also highly recommend her novel The Magician's Elephant, which won a number of state Children's Choices awards and was named an ALA Notable Children's Book.

For More About Author Kate DiCamillo

In the early 2000s, I enjoyed a chat room visit with Kate DiCamillo and in early 2014 I did several interviews with her.

Learn more about Kate DiCamillo by reading my article Kate DiCamillo, Newbery Medal Winner, and my interviews: Kate DiCamillo - An Interview About Her Writing and Her Award-Winning Books and The 2014-2015 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature: An Interview with Kate DiCamillo.