The Jungle Book


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Book Review

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Plot Summary

The Jungle Book is a collection of stories and poems, and is not a single tale. Each piece is summarized below.

Mowgli’s Brothers — Father Wolf is surprised to see a man cub enter his den. When Shere Khan, the limping tiger, tries to take the man cub, he becomes stuck in the den’s entrance. Mother and Father Wolf refuse to give the man cub to the tiger. When their other cubs are able to run, Mother and Father Wolf take the man cub, called Mowgli, and their other cubs to Council Rock. One by one, the cubs are presented and accepted by the pack. To be accepted means that the pack will protect them until they kill their first buck. Because Mowgli is a man cub and not a wolf, Akela, the leader, asks for two animals, other than his wolf parents, to speak for him. Baloo, a brown bear, and Bagheera, a black panther, speak for him, so he is accepted into the Free People (wolf pack). As Mowgli grows, he learns the Law of the Jungle. When he is a little older, Bagheera sends him to bring back the Red Flower (fire) from a man village. Mowgli finds and carries it back in a pot and feeds it with twigs and grass. Meanwhile, Akela misses his kill, which means that he will be removed as the leader of the Free People. The Wolf Pack meets at Council Rock to officially remove Akela from his position and kill him. Since Akela can no longer protect Mowgli, Shere Khan demands Mowgli be returned to him. The wolves agree. Then Mowgli produces the Red Flower from the pot. He denounces the Free People for their betrayal of him and Akela, excluding Mother and Father Wolf and his brother cubs, and forces Shere Khan to leave by singeing his fur. Mowgli declares that he won’t return to Council Rock until he has Shere Khan’s hide. He leaves to find a man village.

Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack — This poem is a hunting song of the Free People, the wolf pack.

Kaa’s Hunting — Before Mowgli left the Free People, he was under the tutelage of Baloo and Bagheera. In this tale, they teach him the Law of the Jungle, which most wolf cubs don’t learn fully. He learns how to speak to snakes, birds and other beasts, to hail them and to ask for permission not to be harmed by them. One day after being cuffed by Baloo for not reciting the Law correctly, Mowgli leaves in a huff and plays with the Monkey People, the Bandar-log, and they tell him that someday he will be their leader. When Baloo learns about this, he becomes angry. The Jungle People ignore the Monkey People because of their foolishness. Before long, the Monkey People kidnap Mowgli. They toss him between them as they travel to the Cold Lair, an Indian ruin in the Jungle. Mowgli hails a bird to tell Baloo and Bagheera where he’s being taken. Baloo and Bagheera know the Bandar-log fears Kaa the Rock Python, so they find him and ask for help. All he knows is that the Bandar-log have changed their hunting grounds. Just then, a bird tells them that the Monkey People have taken Mowgli to the Cold Lairs. Meanwhile, Mowgli tries to leave the Cold Lairs, but the Monkey People pull him back and tell him why he wants to be with them and how amazing they are. When Bagheera arrives and attacks, over 100 monkeys attack him and throw Mowgli into an area filled with poisonous snakes. Mowgli speaks friendship to the snakes, and they agree not to bite him. When Baloo arrives, he begins to fight against the Bandar-log, too. Then Kaa comes and the monkeys flee. Kaa’s hissing and movement puts them in a trance. Kaa breaks the wall holding Mowgli, and then Baloo and Bagheera fall into the snake’s trance, too. Mowgli thanks the python, snaps his friends out of their trance and leaves. The Law of the Jungle requires that Mowgli be cuffed for his mischievousness, but Bagheera cuffs him lightly, though it is quite a beating for a 7-year-old. Then they all head for their respective homes.

Road-Song of the Bandar-Log — This poem is a song of the Monkey People.

“Tiger! Tiger!” — When Mowgli leaves Council Rock, he travels to a village on the plains, far away from the jungle. Messua, a woman who lost her son to a jungle tiger and who is rich, takes in Mowgli. Mowgli wants to assimilate, so he starts to learn the language, wears clothing and learns about plowing, but he won’t sleep in the hut. He sleeps in the long grass. There, Gray Wolf, his brother cub, finds him. Gray Wolf says he will warn Mowgli when Shere Kahn returns, for Shere Khan has vowed to kill Mowgli. Because Mowgli doesn’t understand the cast system and helps a potter restack his pots, he is made a servant of the village and sent to watch the buffalo, which Mowgli enjoys. In the evenings, he listens to the older men talk beneath the fig tree about their exploits, especially Buldeo, the head hunter of the village. But these stories make Mowgli laugh. Buldeo says things that are not true, such as the tiger that limps is inhabited by an old money lender who limped. When Mowgli contradicts him, Buldeo is enraged and makes him leave to herd the buffalo. Soon Gray Brother tells Mowgli that Shere Khan has returned and is waiting in the tall grass to kill him. Gray Brother also brings Akela with him, which encourages Mowgli. The wolves help Mowgli divide the buffalo herd into bulls in one group and cows and calves in the other. Mowgli and Akela drive the bulls away from the village, while Gray Wolf drives the cows and calves to the ravine, to a place Shere Kahn can’t jump over the walls. Then the cows and calves stop to graze. Mowgli traps Shere Kahn between stampeding buffalo, and the tiger is trampled to death. Mowgli begins to skin the 10-foot tiger, but Buldeo tries to claim the hide as his. When Akela helps keep Mowgli safe from Buldeo, Buldeo returns to the village with stories of Mowgli’s sorcery. Once Mowgli is done skinning Shere Khan, Mowgli wears the skin and takes the buffalo back to the village. But the villagers won’t let him enter. Mowgli realizes that the Free People cast him out because he wasn’t a wolf, and now Man rejects him because they think he is a wolf. Messua doesn’t believe what Buldeo says and thanks Mowgli for avenging her son’s death. Mowgli doesn’t destroy the village because it is her home, too. Mowgli returns to Council Rock with Shere Khan’s hide. The Free People beg Akela and Mowgli to lead them, but they refuse. Mowgli hunts only with his Wolf brothers, until he becomes a man, which is another story.

Mowgli’s Song — This poem is the song that Mowgli sings when he brings Shere Khan’s hide to Council Rock.

The White Seal — Seals spend the summer months in the land of Novastoshnah on the Island of St. Paul in the Bering Sea. Sea Catch, a large gray seal, fights other seals for a place on the crowded rock beach for his nursery. Then the women arrive. The thousands of younger male and female seals, called bachelors and holluschickie, move farther inland. Kotick is born to Sea Catch. He is different from other seals in that he is all white. At summer’s end, he leaves with his mother and learns how to survive in the open sea. The following year, he returns as a bachelor to Novastoshnah. During that summer, seal hunters from a nearby village herd a small group of bachelor seals to their death, though they won’t touch the white seal. The other seals accept the deaths of the missing bachelors as a way of life, but Kotick wants to find a safer place for the seals. He asks a Sea Lion for help. The Sea Lion tells him to talk to the Sea Vitch on Walrus Island, who tells him to ask the Sea Cow about a safer island. Discouraged, Kotick returns to Novastoshnah, but that fall, he sets out to find Sea Cow. He searches for Sea Cow and explores possible new islands for five years. He is about to give up when an old seal tells him to try one more time. There is a prophecy that says a white seal will lead all seals to a safe island. So Kotick spends one more year searching. Finally he finds a herd of sea cows and follows them, because they won’t communicate with him. They end up on an island where no people have ever been. Its natural barriers keep people form finding it. Kotick returns to Novastoshnah, but no seal want to follow him to the new island until he fights the largest ones and wins. Only then do they follow him to their new home.

Lukannon: This poem is a song that that the seals sing as they head toward their summer beach. Kipling thought of it as their National Anthem.

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” — Rikki-tikki is a mongoose. When a flood washes him out of his parents’ home, a young boy named Teddy finds and feeds him. Rikki-tikki rides on Teddy’s shoulders. In the garden, Rikki-tikki meets Darzee and his wife, birds who have lost one of their eggs to Nag, a black cobra. Nag tries to scare Rikki-tikki, but Darzee warns him of danger just in time to escape Nagaina, Nag’s wife. Hurrying back to Teddy, Rikki-tikki stops a poisonous brown snake from biting Teddy. Teddy’s parents now love Rikki-tikki and treat him well. That night Chuchundra, a muskrat, hints that Nag is coming to attack. Nag finds a way into the bathroom, and Rikki-tikki attacks him. The mongoose bites the cobra’s head, locking his jaws around it. Teddy’s father hears the noise and uses his shotgun to kill the snake. The next morning, Rikki-tikki aches all over, but he gets Darzee’s wife to be a decoy so he can destroy Nagaina’s eggs. Rikki-tikki destroys 24 of the 25 eggs. Nagaina goes after Teddy, and Rikki-tikki takes the final egg to get Nagaina’s attention. Nagaina grabs her egg and flees to her snake hole, but Rikki-tikki pursues. He bites her tale and is pulled into the snake hole. After some time, Rikki-tikki returns the victor. He continues to live with Teddy’s family and keeps the garden safe.

Darzee’s Chant — a poem that tells how Darzee honored Rikki-tikki in song

Toomai of the Elephants — Kala Nag, an elephant that had served the Indian Government for 47 years, is almost 70 years old. His driver is called Big Toomai, and the man’s 10-year-old son is called Little Toomai. Little Toomai’s grandfather and great-grandfather had worked with Kala Nag. Kala Nag obeys his Toomai drivers whether they go to war, travel on ships, remain in city stalls or capture wild elephants. During the season when the family helps round up wild elephants in the jungle, Little Toomai helps a hunter but puts himself in danger to do it. Fortunately, Kala Nag saves him. The incident is reported to Petersen Sahib, a white man, the head of the Keddah operations, who catches all the wild elephants for the Indian government. Petersen Sahib gives Little Toomai money and tells him to come back once he’s seen the elephants dance. (This is a joke among hunters because elephants don’t dance, though there are stories that they do dance on the day the elephant drive ends each year.) That night, Little Toomai wakes to find Kala Nag still awake and hears the “hoot-toot” of wild elephants in the distance. Kala Nag easily and quietly breaks the ropes that hold him in place. As he leaves, Little Toomai asks Kala Nag to let him go, too, so the elephant lifts him on his neck. They travel deep into the jungle and are joined by other elephants. They all reach the top of the hill where trees circle a three- to four-acre space and all the grass has been trampled. Slowly, that area fills with elephants from all parts of India. Then Kala Nag moves to the center. In pitch-blackness, all the elephants trumpet. Then they begin to stamp their feet at the same time, occasionally surging forward and shuffling sideways, too. At dawn, the stamping ends, and each elephant returns from where it came. Little Toomai sees that the elephants made a bigger clearing. Little Toomai directs Kala Nag to Petersen Sahib’s house and tells what he’s seen. After Petersen Sahib’s men verify the clearing, everyone believes him, and they hold a feast for him. His father, who has been looking for him, attends also. Little Toomai is given the name Toomai of the Elephants, the same name as his great-grandfather, for the elephants have favored Little Toomai by allowing him to see them dance.

Shiv and the Grasshopper — This poem is the song that Toomai’s mother sings to her child.

Her Majesty’s Servants — The narrator is a part of a camp of 30,000 men, along with their camels, elephants, horses, mules and other animals. When a group of camels gets loose, they destroy the narrator’s tent. He makes a makeshift wigwam out of his waterproof outer covering over a muzzle of a cannon and a few rammers, so he can keep out of the rain. Fortunately, the man understands what animals say. This is what he heard when a loose, camel, pair of bulls, horse, mule and his dog talk to each other. The loose camel asks the mule what he should do. The mule kicks the camel and says that he should know better than to stampede through a mule battery. Then a troop horse and a bull find the camel. The camel says that he and the other camels have been running around the camp because of bad dreams they’ve had. Then each animal compares what it means to fight in the Queen’s service, from their perspective and the part they play in battles. When things grow heated, an elephant asks them to quiet down and not fight. The animals decide that they each have different parts to play and that only men can see the whole picture of the battle. They see only what is right before them, and they question why they have to fight at all. They are scared of different things and feel brave about different things. The next day, they are all in a parade that shows off the whole regiment for the Viceroy and the Amir of Afghanistan. The Amir is impressed and wonders how such a spectacle has been orchestrated. He is told that they can only do this because the men take orders from their commanders and the animals take orders from the men. The leader of Afghanistan realizes that he could never perform such a feat because Afghan men only take orders from themselves.

Parade Song of the Camp Animals — Each animal from the story is given a verse in this poem to tell bout their experience of being in the military camp in the Queen’s service.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

In “Mowgli’s Brothers,” Tabaqui the jackal wishes the Wolf family good luck and compliments the cubs, which he knows is an action of bad luck, and the wolves feel uncomfortable about it. The Law of the Jungle is a series of guiding principles for how jungle animals should act. In “‘Tiger! Tiger!’” there is a Hindu god in the alcove of Messua’s home. Buldeo believes there is sorcery at work because Mowgli has a history with the tiger and a wolf obeys him. Then Buldeo embellishes what has happened so others, especially the priest, distrust Mowgli and are scared of his sorcery.

Authority Roles

In “Mowgli’s Brothers,” Mother and Father Wolf protect and defend their cubs, even as they teach them to grow. Baloo and Bagheera speak for Mowgli, which keeps him alive, and they commit to teaching him the Law of the Jungle. They are also willing to fight for him. Akela, the lead wolf, governs the Free People justly. Shere Kahn uses his power to pursue only his own good and bully others. In “Kaa’s Hunting,” Baloo and Bagheera use cuffing as a form of discipline, according to the Law of the Jungle. Though they cuff 7-year-old Mowgli lightly, their hits are hard for Mowgli. In “‘Tiger! Tiger!’”

Buldeo uses his place as lead hunter of the village to get what he wants and try to get Mowgli’s tiger skin from him. He also turns the village against Mowgli. In “The White Seal,” Kotick’s parents care for him and teach him what he needs to know to survive in the wild. Later, he asks them where they can go to get away from the sealers, and his parents tell him that once he starts his own nursery, he will be on the beach and the sealers will no longer try to take him. In “‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,’” Teddy’s parents look out for him and like the mongoose because he protects their son. The birds and snakes work to keep their nests protected and safe. In “Toomai of the Elephants,” Big Toomai and his wife look out for their son Little Toomai. Little Toomai gives Petersen Sahib much respect for his position and his skill as an elephant hunter.

Profanity & Violence

In “The White Seal,” there are mild exclamations such as “my wig” and “fat pigs of the sea.” In “Toomai of the Elephants,” characters use the phrase “fat old pig” derogatively and “Gods of the Jungle” and “by all the Gods of the hills.” In “Her Majesty’s Service,” phrases such as “parrot-mouthed, pig-headed mule,” “pop-gun pea-shooter battery,” “Pachydermatous Anachronism,” “you big, blundering beast,” “stupid” and “son of an imported Malaga jackass” are used.

The jungle is a survival-of-the-fittest, dangerous place. In “Mowgli’s Brothers,” Shere Kahn stalks the man cub, intent on eating him. Mowgli sets Shere Kahn on fire, and Akela is removed from leadership of the Free People because he misses a kill. If it weren’t for Mowgli, he would have been killed when he was removed from leadership.

In “Kaa’s Hunting,” Bagheera and Baloo cuff Mowgli as a means of discipline. They also fight, as if to the death, against hundreds of Monkey People. Kaa the Rock Python mesmerizes other animals with its movements and hissing so it can eat them. It is not a poisonous snake and squeezes its victims to death.

In “‘Tiger! Tiger!’” Mowgli causes a herd of buffalo to trample Shere Khan, who is waiting to kill him. Then Mowgli skins the tiger. Akela holds off Buldeo. Then the town throws rocks and shoots at Mowgli when he returns because they think he is a wolf that knows sorcery.

In “The White Seal,” male seals fight nonstop for a place for their nursery on the small beach. Many bachelors are led to their deaths by sealers. Kotick must fight many male seals in order to get them to follow him to a safer island.

In “‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,’” Rikki-tikki is swept out of his parents’ home in a flood. Then Nagaina tries to come up behind him and kill him. Rikki-tikki attacks a poisonous brown snake and Nag, and Teddy’s father kills them both, either with pounding or his gun. Rikki-tikki destroys all but one egg in Nagaina’s nest. In the final battle between Rikki-tikki and Nagaina, the action is not described, but Rikki-tikki is the victor, which means that Nagaina and her last egg are destroyed.

In “Her Majesty’s Service,” all the animals describe their service in battle. A mule kicks a camel to teach him a lesson, and camels destroy men’s tents as they flee their bad dreams.

Sexual Content


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