Baby book review: A Tiger Called Tomás by Charlotte Zolotow

Marian reads A Tiger Called TomasBaby librarian Marian’s review

I was so excited when Mommy started reading this book! I can’t wait for my first Halloween, and this book is all about Tomás’ first Halloween in a new town. Which isn’t really like my first Halloween ever, but I like reading about big kids anyway.

The beginning was a bit disappointing because it’s not Halloween yet. It’s all about how Tomás is too shy to play with his neighbors when he moves to a new town. Boring. I played instead, going as fast as I could along the couch and pretending Mommy was chasing me, even though she was reading. But once she got to the Halloween part, I wanted to see the pages. Everyone’s dressed up! It’s exciting! Tomás is a tiger, there’s a witch, a ghost, a skeleton, a viking. These are awesome Halloween costumes! I really like these pictures. And now the beginning makes sense. Tomás is brave enough to go trick or treating at his neighbors’ houses because he’s hidden beneath his tiger costume. But each neighbor recognizes him anyway and wants him to come back and play. I like playing, so I would definitely take them up on the offer. But how do they recognize Tomás with the tiger outfit on? That part is never explained. I would like it explained.  But overall, this is a fun book and it makes me excited about Halloween.

Book cover of A Tiger Called Tomas by Charlotte ZolotowMommy Margaret’s Review

Just like Marian said, this is a fun Halloween book. The illustrations by Marta Álvarez Miguéns are vivid and beautiful, and depict exactly what’s going on for each page. Zolotow’s prose is a great mix of dialogue and storytelling, and I love the story.

The first half of the book sets up how Tomás is new to his neighborhood, doesn’t have any friends, and is too shy to go play with his neighbors. A couple of notes here: I LOVE that the neighbors include both children and adults of all ages. This is an inclusive, community-driven book. One of his neighbors, for example, is an elderly man walking his poodle. Another neighbor is a little girl playing hopscotch. Tomás can be friends with the elderly man as easily as he can with the little girl. I love that. Each neighbor is given their own activity that Tomás watches from his porch. This gives a little bit of personality to his neighbors, without overburdening the text with too many characters. This would be a lovely book for children moving to a new town.

It does take a bit before it’s Halloween, and I actually checked the cover to make sure it was indeed a Halloween book while reading. It’s half and half. Which is fine, it just took me a bit to get to the Halloween part!

During the first half, the illustrations depict the changing seasons, with the leaves changing colors as the story progresses. The colors are bright and realistic, and it’s easy to tell how shy Tomás is, and how each character is feeling. In the second half,  I love the Halloween costumes, and the darker art. Tomás’ tiger costume really pops!

There’s an interesting note at the end by the author’s daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon. Apparently, A Tiger Called Thomas has been published numerous times. It first told a version of Charlotte’s own story as a Jewish child moving to a non-Jewish neighborhood. It has since been republished several times, and each time, Thomas takes on a slightly new identity, though it’s always about how he adjusts as an outsider to a new town. In one version, Thomas is black. In this version, he’s Latino. Crescent Dragonwagon added some Spanish to this edition, to reflect the changes to Tomás’ identity. It would be fascinating to collect all 4 editions, and examine the changes to the text and illustrations, and discuss with an older child.

This book holds a lot of story, but Zolotow tells it perfectly. Each character comes alive through dialogue, descriptions, and Miguéns’ illustrations. I recommend it for elementary school ages, and it’d be perfect for children moving to a new town, or as a Halloween book for all children. I also think it could open up some great discussions about diversity by comparing editions. This is one I need to buy for Marian’s library.

Both the author and illustrator have many children’s books, and I enjoyed the story and art equally. I will be checking out more of their books!

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