In this illustrated children’s book, a young tiger learns about compassion and puts the lesson into action.
Talan is a young Royal Bengal tiger growing up happily in the Sundarbans, among the mangrove trees in South Asia. One day, when out with his mother, he comes upon a statue that adult readers will recognize as a seated Buddha. Talan’s mother explains that the statue “represents a great man who was a friend to the tigers.” Still curious, Talan asks his father, his grandmother and his grandfather—“the wisest of all the tigers”—about the man in the statue. He learns that the man wouldn’t eat any of them for food, because of his great compassion for all animals. Inspired, Talan wishes to follow his example, even when he’s warned that he’ll suffer and die. As Talan sits beneath a mangrove tree in imitation of the statue, other animals, including those he might have once hunted and eaten, come and question him. They bring him their own food, such as berries and grain, but it can’t sustain him. Moved by Talan’s sacrifice in the name of compassion, the other animals gather around him sadly. Eventually an old, dying deer offers himself to Talan, but the tiger still refuses to eat. The two die curled up together, and now a statue in their memory stands in the jungle. Gray (Ferdie’s Grand Day, 2012) tells the story well; its repetitive structure will have appeal for young readers, and the exotic location with its varied animals and birds is also engaging. Salyers’s illustrations are colorful and charming. However, the story is awfully sad and upsetting; would a compassionate Buddha truly wish a beautiful young tiger to suffer and die slowly, rather than follow its own nature as a carnivore? In these days when wild tigers are almost extinct, the idea that it’s noble for one to starve himself to death seems the wrong message.
An engaging tale that intends to convey the importance of compassion, but dooms its subject to a cruel fate.