Mary Stolz's Belling the Tiger
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A book about authority
Sometimes I question authority. I don't make a habit of it. But sometimes I do it when I think it needs to be done.
I consider the consequences to me. I consider the consequences to others. I consider how others will react.
I don't like when people question authority just to question authority. That's pretty much the definition of a "punk."
In other words, proper questioning of authority requires due deliberation. You need to examine the motives of others before calling them out. You need to see if you can see through their pretense to shallow or selfish motives.
Belling the Tiger is a book all about examining others. Not for weaknesses to be exploited, but for moral frailties that should be taken into consideration before deciding one's own actions.
It's a very sophisticated book with lots of themes (and a 1961 Newbery Honor winner)!
Belling the Tiger
Bob and Ozzie are mice...and brothers. They're young, they're little. They live in a house, along with many larger and older mice. Those mice have a culture - a government really - unto themselves. It meets in a closet.
Portman is their leader. He heads the Steering Committee. They decide which mice get to be pantry mice, and which are relegated to the basement.
Well, the Steering Committee has decided that the house cat, July, the greatest threat to their existence, needs to be belled.
Belling a cat, of course, means hanging a collar with a bell around its neck so that it can no longer stalk effectively. It's a dangerous job, and the Steering Committee gets to decide who does it.
They decide on Bob and Ozzie. Does that sound a little like sending teenagers off to to fight the grown-ups' war? I told you there were lots of themes!
Bob and Ozzie are appropriately fearful, but they fear angering Portman even more than they fear July. So they set out from the house to find a properly belled collar.
Well, by and by, they encounter plenty of danger simply trying to secure the collar (which they manage) and have to take refuge on an ocean-going ship in port.
The ship sets sail, arrives in a new port, the boys disembark and find themselves in a jungle. They go to sleep. When dawn comes, they find themselves face to face with a sleeping tiger!
Well, actually, they think he's a giant cat.
"Are you afraid?" said Bob.
"I don't think so. I mean, I'm not as afraid of this as I am of July," said Ozzie.
"Or Portman," Ozzie agreed. "This thing is so big. We could be under something before it saw us."
They decide to bell it.
Author Mary Stolz makes the decision believable. Bob and Ozzie are properly fearful, but they find themselves in these strange environs still in possession of the belled collar. It's a teenage boy, coming-of-age moment. And while they succeed in belling the tiger's tail...
The tiger suddenly wakes up. And they get to stare death in the face. And...
I'm not going to tell you the rest!
Belling the Tiger
I will tell you that the boys survive and that when they return home Portman, July and the Steering Committee seem decidely less formidable. This is a book about learning of the larger world and realizing that the immediate bullies aren't quite so tough. It's also a book about solidarity between best friends.
Unfortunately, it's also a book that's out of print (as of June, 2016). So whether you buy Belling The Tiger used or borrow it from the library, I hope you'll join me in hoping it gets back in print!
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