Kashmira Sheth’s Tiger in My Soup is a picture book for book-lovers everywhere. We bibliophiles know what it’s like to get lost in a book, but the young boy in this book has the adventure of a lifetime, thanks to his book—as well as an assist from his own active imagination.

“Today, my big sister is in charge of the house, the lunch, and me,” the boy tells readers on page one. Sure enough, we see the adult driving away. The boy, with book in hand and older sister nearby, waves goodbye. He’s reading a book with a tiger on the cover and asks his sister to read to him. She looks actively indifferent, unfortunately for him. “Not now,” she tells him.

The boy tries to look at the book himself, but it’s a no-go. He can’t get into it. His sister has her own book, as well as an iPod attached to her hip and earbuds in her ears. When he asks for lunch, he has to physically remove one of her earbuds to yell “I’m hungry!”—but at least that works. She snaps out of her reverie to open a can of alphabet soup to heat for him. One more request for her to read to him fails. The boy’s having a frustrating day.

 

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But it’s precisely then that things get interesting for him. Observant readers will see that, when his sister poured his alphabet soup into his bowl, the word “tiger” is formed. Next, when the boy sees a tiger emerge from his soup, “roar” is evident, floating right there at the top.

            Tiger in My Soup 1

Yep, a tiger steps right out of his soup—a visually striking moment. The tiger then stalks the boy, who even attempts to stab the creature with kitchen utensils. (Note the book’s cover and the boy’s makeshift helmet. Who knew colanders could be used in times of battle?) And, when tiger spit lands on his face, “this means war!”

Clearly, in order to conquer his own boredom, the boy’s imagination is in overdrive. It’s a thrill for young readers, in large part thanks to illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler. His tiger is particularly impressive: He’s physically beautiful, Ebbeler having rendered him realistically with fine lines and details, and he’s fierce and majestic, as a tiger should be; it wouldn’t have worked at all if Ebbeler had shied from making the creature as menacing as they are in real life. Ebbeler plays especially well with perspective on several threads, and it’s all very action-packed, a real page-turner.

When the boy finally convinces his sister to read to him, Ebbeler also treats us to the book-within-the-book: We see a spread from the book the boy was reading, as his sister holds it up and finally spends some time with him. The boy’s book, what looks like a traditional Indian tale, gives Ebbeler a chance to show us an entirely different artistic style. It’s beautifully rendered, too. Best of all, this is followed by a spread of the girl morphing into the tiger, as she roars like the feline (at the boy’s request), while reading. It is, all at once, a beautiful, bizarre and beguiling moment in the book.

              Tiger in my soup 2

So, next time you open a can of alphabet soup…well, be sure to check the label closely. Or, better yet, immerse yourself in a great book. Maybe even with a tiger.

Just have the colander handy.

TIGER IN MY SOUP. Copyright © 2013 by Kashmira Sheth. Illustrations © 2013 by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Published by Peachtree, Atlanta. Illustration reproduced with permission of the publisher.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.