When I was a little girl, the bookstore in my town was my favorite retreat. There were creaky, dark hardwood floors, a stately but gloomy fireplace with big comfortable chairs with vintage upholstery set up before it, and the ubiquitous bookstore cat. The speakers quietly played NPR and while it wasn’t particularly well lit, the shelves were bursting everywhere you looked. It was the most beautiful bookstore I have ever seen, and played a big role in my dream of owning my own bookstore. I did my best when I finally opened up my used bookstore- I had chairs set up in front of a warm stove, I brought in my dear house cat, Pete, and covered every square inch I could with books. But I was never able to replicate the feeling of that warm, deliciously shadowy store. Maybe it was the skylight letting in so much natural sun, maybe it was the clear stain on the floors and shelves. Whatever that magic was, I’d like to bottle it and release it into my living room.
In the years since I’ve left, that store has gone through a couple of different incarnations (and owners). It was moved to the cellar of its original building where somehow the light was brighter, and earlier this year it was moved down the street altogether, where the clean, light shelves are beautifully organized, displaying an excellent collection of books, and the fresh storefront windows let plenty of light in. I know, I know. You can’t go home again. Anyway, when we came back to visit this summer, the bookstore was the first place I hauled my children into- and straight into the picture book section at that. And so all of this is really just the roundabout story of how I came across today’s book.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, by Peter Brown, is the gorgeous story of of a very civilized society of wild animals, where upstanding behavior overrules any natural (wild) inclination. Ever so serious elephants and rhinos and bears wear top hats and stiff collars while they drink their tea with their pinkies up.
One day, Tiger gets just the inkling of an idea to conduct himself in a manner inherent to, you know, wild tigers, and drops to all fours. Well, you’d think the sky had fallen by the shock that ripples through the sophisticated animal city.
They watch in awe as Tiger slowly sheds his refined persona until he finally crosses the line and jumps into a fountain and all of his gentlemanly clothes just kind of…float off. Well, this is just too much for his compatriots, and Tiger decides to take off for the jungle.
It’s all well and good in the jungle, it is where he belongs after all, and he is free to run and climb and roar really, really loudly. But after a while he misses his friends and his city and rather wants to return. And when he does, he finds that things have changed, that perhaps he began a movement of “loosening up.” Some of his friends are walking on all fours, some are wearing play clothes. They all seem more friendly, happy, more relaxed. Our friend Tiger is welcomed with open arms, free to be who he is- whether he feels like wearing his suit or an Aloha shirt. As long as he’s not buck naked, let’s not go totally crazy.
The moral of the story, according to the back of the book, is “There is a time and a place for everything- even going wild.” But I’d extend that to include “You and me are free to be you and me.”