Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge, April 2014, middle grade), is one for readers whose hearts melt (or possibly start beating frantically from the tension) when presented with baby animals in danger. In this case, it's a baby tiger in danger, and for those who get anxious, baby tiger is saved and reunited with her mama! (because there are many young readers who hate it when the baby animals don't make it, I thought that spoiler would be helpful....)
In this case, the baby tiger has escaped through the fence of a wildlife reserve on one of the many islands of the Sunderbans, off the coasts of India and Bangladesh. An evil, rich, and powerful man wants the tiger captured so he can kill and sell her skin and body parts...and a brave boy, Neel, is determined to find her first and save her. But Neel's own father, desperate for money, is working for the rich bad guy, though his heart is against it. And Neel himself is supposed to spending his time cramming for an exam for a scholarship that would give him incredible opportunities.
Neel, though, isn't sure he wants opportunities....he's pretty sure he doesn't want to leave home, because hard thought the work (fishing and farming and odd-jobbing) is, it is what he knows and loves. And then there is the distraction of saving the baby tiger....So Neel and his older sister set out into the night in race against time...
In a really nice twist, when Neel saves the tiger and returns her to the rangers, he is given a small library of books on wildlife management in return....and realizes that if he were to get the scholarship, he could help his islands, which is even better than saving just one tiger. This lesson isn't hammered home to the reader, but instead is shown through Neel's point of view as he comes to that conclusion himself.
Neel's point of view is an excellent window into the lives of the islanders, still reeling from a storm that shattered their livelihoods a few years back. The rich bad guy, intent on turning Neel's island into his private source of cash, has no redeeming features, and so there's never any moral conflict in the readers mind....but that's balanced by Neel's own internal conflict about trying for the scholarship or staying home and accepting the status quo.
And the baby tiger (cute! not yet a vicious man-eater, like many of the tigers on these islands actually are, as is explained in the author's note) adds just tons of kid appeal. And the story (with its Tiger Tension) moves along very nicely indeed, and Neel (with his reluctance to grapple with math) and his friends and family are all relatable people despite their geographical and cultural distance from kids in the US. Rich descriptions bring Neel's world to life; and presumably the illustrations (not included in the advance copy I read) will add even more.
Short answer--it's very easy to use the hook of baby tigerness to offer your kids a window into a way of life they might never have thought of before! And it's a good story in its own right-- I enjoyed it lots myself.
review copy received at Kidlitcon 2014 (where Mitali was the great Keynote Speaker)