Tiger Boy, written by Mitali Perkins with illustrations by Jamie Hogan, tells the story of an Indian boy who lives in the Sunderbans, an archipelago of islands spanning Bangladesh and West Bengal, India, where the story is set. In this delta region, people live on half of the islands while the other half make up a mangrove forest preserve which is home to the last remaining wild Bengal tigers, endangered from poaching. Cyclones, deforestation, and global warming are some of the problems threatening the survival of the area as well as the people and creatures living there.
Neel is the smartest boy in the village. His family and elders in the community hope he will pass the exam to earn a boarding school scholarship. Neel doesn’t want to leave his village with its surrounding tidal rivers, mudflats, and creeks, and hopes he fails the test. His sister, Rupa would love to trade places with Neel. Like most girls in her village, Rupa had to drop out of school to work, or in her case, take care of their ailing mother and home.
When a baby tiger escapes from the preserve, Neel and Rupa race to find her before greedy, opportunistic, Gupta, and his henchmen capture and sell the tiger on the black market. Their father taught Neel and Rupa to respect and protect the plants and animals of the preserve, but even he has decided to work for Gupta to catch the tiger. His father wants the extra money for a tutor to prepare Neel for his exam. Neel uses his knowledge of the area and mathematical skills to chart and identify the most likely hiding places for the tiger. When Neel and Rupa find the baby tiger, they must go against their father to bring her to safety. Neel comes to understand the value of an education not only for himself, but to benefit his island community. He can use his boarding school education to help protect the land and expand opportunities in his village.
Author Mitali Perkins skillfully uses Neel’s dilemma to illustrate larger issues of poverty, changes to natural habitats, and education for boys and girls that beset the villages of the Sunderbans. The black and white drawings are a nice addition to the novel, giving a sense of place to the characters and the landscape.
Mitali Perkins was born in India and has lived in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, Mexico, Thailand, Great Britain, and the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of numerous books. Visit her website http://mitaliperkins.com/.