The Tiger of the River by Adrian Pinder (Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger Books) takes young readers into the fertile belt of the mighty river Kaveri which flows across South India. Underscoring the basic need of water for all life on earth to survive and grow, this book dives deep beneath the water to focus on one very special fish- the mahseer. The hump-backed mahseer is a magnificent creature that can grow to the size of a man. It is critically endangered, and perhaps a book like this may just open our eyes to this fact.
The swelling Kaveri, post-monsoon carries the protagonist, a little fish called Matisha, to the safety of the sheltered bay. We follow the little fish as she grows from the size of a rice grain, to the size of a finger, a hand and much beyond. Her adventures make up the crux of the story, as she wades through stormy waters (sometimes quite literally) even encountering a tiger on the way, as they look at each other with mutual respect. Through the unique point of view of one little fish, an ecosystem is explained.
The vibrant illustrations by Maya Ramaswamy bring to life the bustling jungles and the flowing river, as well as the flora and the fauna that thrive in their embrace. If you look carefully there are different angles and viewpoints on each page. You may see a bird’s eye view of the river and forest; you may see it gleam in the sun; or you may catch a glimpse of fish under the water, playing in an equally rich and diverse world. These pictorial details are a delight to note and while young readers will pause on each page to take in the words, they will also drink in the beauty of the illustrations.
The book comes at a time where conversations around the role of sustainability and the importance of preserving our natural heritage are becoming urgent and very important. In bringing out the story of one lone fish, the book addresses a larger topic in a very simple manner for the youngest of readers. It does not preach, but indirectly makes a point. There is a section describing how the little fish is carried by the river, where there is a passing remark of how the river also carries the plastic litter that people throw. Or, when black and dirty water flows into the river, carrying many dead fish with it. In a manner of passing, a big point is made.
The Tiger of the River is apt for the 4-9 age group and is a great addition to school and class libraries since it can be used to invoke many discussions and follow-up activities. It also makes for great gifting!