Friday, 17 August 2012

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

I feel a little silly doing a book review on this one as everyone seems to remember it from their childhood and has their own view of it. That said, I read it for the first time this week so there must be a few others like me who haven’t yet had the tiger round for tea. 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea Judith Kerr

Perhaps too young?

I’ll be honest, Little Bean (11 months and counting) was not a fan. She’s more than a little in love with Hide and Seek Pig at the moment and seems to think a book’s not really worth her time unless it has flaps to open up. Also, although the illustrations are lovely, they’re not quite as bold and beautiful as other more contemporary ones. That said, I suspect that as she grows older this is exactly the kind of kookiness that will result in fits of giggles (almost as much as finding a hen hiding in the picnic basket does now). 

In a nutshell

For those of you who don’t know the story, it goes something like this. Sophie and her mum are just sitting down for tea when there’s a knock at the door. Who can it be? Having established that the milkman and deliveryman have already visited and it’s too early for dad to be home from work, they are still perplexed as to their visitor. Opening the door they are suprisingly nonplussed to discover a tiger on their doorstep and merrily agree to his staying for tea. 

The greedy tiger demolishes all the food on the table and then goes on to ransack the kitchen cupboards. It’s a good thing he lines his stomach actually because he then proceeds to drink all of daddy’s beer (clearly mummy had cleverly hidden her gin). Don’t know about you, but if my hubby got home and I tried to fob him off saying a tiger had drunk all his beer, there’d be words. 

Thirsty too

Still trying to quench his thirst (or maybe trying to stave off a hangover) the tiger then drinks all the water in the taps. Then he says his goodbyes (politely thanking Sophie and her mum) and off he goes. 

Left with no food, no water in which to bathe, Sophie and her mum are finally dumbstruck. Luckily daddy arrives to save the day (yes, there are a few shall we call them ‘traditional’ bits) and whisks them off to the cafĂ© for tea, finished off with ice cream. 

The following day Sophie and her mum pick up some tiger food but alas the wily bun and beer-loving cat probably suspects as much and doesn’t make a return visit. The End.

A children's classic

It’s a simple story and yet I think the reason it’s been so popular for so long (it’s over 40 years since it was first published) is because it captures children’s imaginations by stomping all over the usual boundaries and rules. An animal is allowed at the table. He eats not only his portion but everyone else’s, including all the buns. Baths/hairwashing is avoided. There’s an outing to eat fish and chips (well past usual bedtime), followed up by ice cream. 

Something so ordinary like sitting down to tea, turns into a lovely succession of out-of-the-ordinary treats.
It’s a cheerful story and despite a few un-PC moments, I am sure will delight little ones as they ooh and ah at the audacity of the cheeky tiger, secretly thinking they’d love to get away with half of his mischievous madness. 

So, what’s the morale of the story?

  • Don’t open your door to strangers who might eat you out of house and home.
  • Dressing up like a tiger will score you free beer.
  • Always keep the wine and gin hidden, but the beer on display as a decoy.
  • Always have a tin of tiger food stashed in the cupboard for surprise visits.

Some extra Tigery titbits: 

  • Here’s a fascinating article and interview with the author, Judith Kerr. In it she talks about how she had to leave behind her pink rabbit comforter when escaping Nazi Germany. Her semi-autobiographical trilogy ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ is named after this. 

  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been adapted for stage and is currently enjoying a very successful run on the West End, London. See here for further details and to book tickets. It's only on until the 2nd September though so be quick. 


  1. I heard an interview with Judith Kerr, she said people are always asking if the Tiger who came to tea is a metaphor for Hitler, but she said "no, its about a tiger who comes for tea"

    1. It's a very polite tiger. If it was supposed to be Hitler, I think it might have eaten them?

  2. I was surprised to find TTWCTT was still on the bookshelves, I thought it might have gone the way of Little Black Sambo,who I also remembered from childhood. I discussed same a while back: