Twelve-year-old Rob, who lives in a motel with his father, is dealing with the death of his mother. He keeps his memories and feelings locked in an “emotional suitcase.” One day, he finds a caged tiger behind the motel. The discovery of the tiger, along with a new friendship, set Rob on a path to acknowledging his grief, expressing his emotions, and learning to trust.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In Shel Silverstein’s poem “Underface,” a speaker describes the face they show to the world and the one that hides underneath.
Read this text after chapter 10 to have students think about the ways people express their feelings. In this chapter, Willie May and Rob talk about his sadness. Have students discuss why Willie May thinks Rob’s legs are broken out and itchy. Then, ask students to discuss how the speaker in the poem describes their two faces. Have students compare Rob and the speaker’s experiences hiding their emotions. Ask, “Why does Willie May say Rob needs to let his sadness rise? How are Rob’s feelings similar to the ‘underface’ described in the poem?” Students may give examples of ways Rob and the speaker hide their emotions from others.
In “The Biggest Little Artist in the World,” LeeAnn Blankenship discusses the famous microsculpture artist, Willard Wigan.
Read this text after chapter 23 to have students think about the ways people use art to express themselves. In this chapter, Rob gives Willie May the tiny bird he whittled for her. Have students discuss why Rob spends time carving the bird for Willie May and why he enjoys making figures out of wood. Then, have students discuss why Willard Wigan’s tiny sculptures are so meaningful. Ask, “How does Rob feel when he carves wood sculptures? How are Rob’s feelings about carving similar to Willard’s?” Students may share that both Rob and Willard use carving as a way to express emotions and find peace while creating something beautiful to share.
In “Shells,” a young boy faces a new life living with his aunt.
Read this text after chapter 28 to have students analyze the ways families and relationships can change. In this chapter, Rob and his father both admit they miss Rob’s mother and acknowledge they’ll have to learn how to rely on each other. Have students discuss how Rob’s relationship with his father has changed since the beginning of the story. Then, have students discuss how Michael’s relationship with Esther changes. Ask students to compare how the various characters begin to express their emotions. Ask, “Why are Rob and his father finally able to express their feelings to each other? How is their conversation in this chapter similar to the conversation between Michael and Esther at the end of ‘Shells?’” Students may emphasize the importance of trust and learning how to open up to others.
In Caryl S. Ulrich’s poem “After the Rain,” a speaker describes nature after it has rained.
Read this text after chapter 29 to have students think about word choice and theme. In this chapter, Rob, his father, Sistine, and Willie May bury the tiger. Have students discuss how the setting changes in this chapter as the sun finally breaks through the rain. Then, have students discuss what they picture when they read the poem. Ask students to compare the descriptions of the weather in the two texts. Ask, “Why do you think the author wrote that the rain cleared after the tiger’s funeral? How are Rob’s feelings after the rain similar to the description in the poem?” Students may draw on the themes of renewal and hope in both texts.