Most of us, if asked, would want to save the tiger. Just look at the one on the cover of Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins; illustrated by Vicky White (Candlewick, 2011): it's beautiful. But the real beauty of Can We Save the Tiger? (apart from White's illustrations, which I'll talk about later) is that it makes us want to save things like partula snails, and vultures. As Jenkins writes, "Ugly things can be endangered, too."
The text of Can We Save the Tiger? is, like its title, both conversational and direct. Jenkins doesn't pull any punches: we won't ever see a live dodo, kids. "And then there are all those other species that are still around, but just barely." Case studies of tigers, snails, and vultures explain the various reasons why; they're accompanied by examples of other animals that are threatened for similar reasons (because they're running out of room, affected by predators introduced by people, or otherwise accidentally endangered by human actions or disease). There are hopeful notes ("Sometimes, though, we have managed to do the right thing in time"), but no easy answers.
Jenkins's text is perfectly paired with White's evocative and beautiful illustrations, done predominantly in pencil with touches of oil paint. White earned a master's degree in natural history illustration from the Royal College of Art, in London; her animals (and one orchid, on the Index page) are precisely rendered, standing out against an expansive backdrop of creamy, oversized pages. Often they seem to look right at you, as does the tiger on the cover.
Can We Save the Tiger? is a gorgeous book, but above all, I appreciate its respect for the intelligence and concern of its young readers and listeners. Who just might be inspired to find out how they can help save the vulture.
[I don't think Can We Save the Tiger? is eligible for the Caldecott (White would have to be an American citizen or resident), but I was happy to see it listed among the Best Books of 2011 in the Horn Book Fanfare. Do you have any Caldecott Hopefuls from among last year's nonfiction picture books?]