Tiger of the Snows / Tenzing Norgay: The Boy whose Dream was Everest
written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ed Young
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006; paperback, 2010)
‘On May 29, 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first climbers ever to reach the peak of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain’ – this is a fact, and still a thrilling fact, quoted here from the afterword to Robert Burleigh and Ed Young’s expansive symphony of free verse and art. It is now general knowledge that Hillary, a New Zealander, was of that first party to reach the top of Everest, or Chomolungma, as she is known to the Sherpas: the Mother Goddess of the Earth. His companion on that final ascent, the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, has been increasingly neglected by the history books: he is now brought to the fore once more in this deceptively simple telling of his story. The reader is there with him from his early calling to the mountain; through his dogged determination as he trains himself to meet the challenges of snow and ice; to the final ascent and that euphoric moment when he ‘rests for a moment/ At the top of the world’. Life could never be quite the same again. This sequence is echoed in the awe-inspiring illustrations of the Himalayas – cold, jagged mountains; endless snow and ice; sun-touched peaks – and swirls of imagery: tiny, ant-like figures, dwarfed by the immensity of the mountains; a mountain morphed into an enormous sleeping cat – will it pounce when it awakens or does it recognise its brother, Norgay, the Tiger of the Snows? And finally, the glorious, smiling full face of Tenzing Norgay, squinting in the glare from the top of Everest. Young’s virtuoso use of pastels and his palette of pinks and blues are indeed a feast for the eyes.
Yet this is not only Tenzing Norgay’s story: it is an allegory for striving and determination in following a dream, which is no less relevant to young people today, more than fifty years on from that first successful ascent of Everest. Everyone has their own personal Everest and following that dream may require enormous determination and resilience. There may be a team of helpers at hand – Norgay and Hillary were part of a team of more than 300 – but that final ascent can only come from within.