Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reading Through History: Tiger, Tiger by Lynne Reid Banks (2004)

Tiger, Tiger begins with two tiger brothers being violently taken from their mother in the jungle and sent to Rome where they are immediately separated. One tiger becomes Boots, the pet of Caesar's daughter, Aurelia, and the other, called Brute, is sent to the Colosseum to be trained to kill gladiators. Caesar hires Julius, a young animal keeper, to look after Boots for his daughter. When Boots escapes after a failed joke, however Julius suddenly faces the possibility of being mauled to death by Brute.

What stands out the most in this book is the violence. The animal cruelty is upsetting enough, but the scenes of gladiators fighting to their death in the Colosseum while Aurelia is forced to watch out of respect for her father are downright nauseating. These events are not presented in a positive light or sensationalized in any way, but it still takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to read those passages.

While the descriptions are strong, however, the plot is pretty weak. The relationship between the tigers is interesting, but could have been used more effectively. Predictably, there are hints of a forbidden romance between Aurelia and Julius, which isn't really necessary and might lose the interest of middle grade readers who are reading this book for the action.  Aurelia's attitudes toward her father's beliefs and practices also don't ring true. It seems far-fetched that a young girl during this time would have the life experience to make the judgments and decisions that Aurelia makes, and part of me feels like the author portrayed her as such an independent thinker mainly to appeal to contemporary readers ' ideas of what strong female characters must be like. In general, Aurelia is also not that well-developed as a character, and readers might find it hard to connect with her.

While it probably wouldn't be wise for this novel to be the only book kids read about Ancient Rome, it does provide a decent overview of society at that time, from the points of view of both royalty and the working class. Kids who like the author's Indian in the Cupboard series might be more easily sold on this book than others about the time period, just based on name recognition. There is also an author's note which explains which parts of the story are historical fact and which are fictionalized for the sake of the story, which will help young history students contextualize what they have read.

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