The Tiger Who Came to Tea is one of those books that I don’t recall having on my bookshelf as a child, but it nevertheless made a big impression on me and I remember it very fondly. It has been on my mental wishlist for ages, and when some colleagues gave me a bookstore gift voucher before I went on maternity leave last month, I used it to buy two picture books. One had to be a beautiful hardback edition of this book.
Rowan is into tigers in a big way at the moment – he is obsessed with David Attenborough documentaries – so we have both loved reading this book together.
A little girl called Sophie opens the door one day to find a big, furry, stripey tiger on her doorstep. When the tiger asks if he can join them for tea, Sophie’s mummy invites him in. But the tiger turns out to be very, very hungry – he not only eats all the food and drink on the tea table but proceeds to raid the kitchen, eating all the food on the stove, in the fridge, and even all the water from the taps.
Eventually the tiger leaves, and Sophie and her mummy are left to figure out what to do – there is nothing for supper and Sophie can’t even have a bath because all the water has been drunk from the taps…
First published in 1968, The Tiger Who Came to Tea is gloriously old-fashioned. Taking place in the days of the milkman and the grocery boy, it is a time when daddy’s supper was prepared in time for his arrival home and going out for dinner was practically unheard of. I love Sophie and her mummy’s outfits; Sophie’s purple pinafore and checkerboard tights are perfect!
I think one of the reasons I loved this book was the fact that it presented elements of fantasy as real. The scenario of a tiger appearing at the door appears perfectly reasonable, as is the idea that the water can be drunk from the taps. When Sophie and her mummy go to the supermarket to replenish supplies, they make sure that they buy a big tin of tiger food. What else do you buy in case a tiger were to stop by?!
The text is beautifully understated – I especially love the page showing the family walking down the High Street on their way out to supper. You can tell how special the outing is to Sophie, how rare it is for her to be out in the street after dark…
So they went out in the dark, and all the street lamps were lit, and all the cars had their lights on, and they walked down the road to a cafe.
Judith Kerr also wrote the series of picture books about Mog the cat, and I only realised tonight that she was author of a young adult novel that I dearly loved, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. If you are familiar with her books, you should definitely read this lovely interview with Judith published in the Telegraph.