I don't know how many times I've read The Tiger Who Came to Tea - certainly hundreds, maybe even thousands, as a child, a sibling and a parent - but I still haven't tired of it. I'll usually try to steer my daughter in its direction when she's choosing a book. Are you sure you want that? I’ll say. Wouldn't you rather have this one?
What do I love about it? The simplicity of the story; its warmth; the sweet domestic details; and the mixture of gentility and terror in the character of the tiger. In what little he says - he speaks only twice in the book - he is terrifically polite. "Excuse me," he says at he pokes his head around the front door, "but I'm very hungry. Do you think I could have tea with you?" As he leaves, he waves and says, "Thank you for my nice tea. I think I'd better go now." What a perfect guest! And yet he's a wild destructive force who rages through the home, draining the taps of water, eating every scrap of food, leaving a scene of chaos.
Why doesn't he eat Sophie and her mother? When we're reading, aren't we waiting for him to turn on them and open his wide jaws? A lesser story might have expressed these fears, but Judith Kerr leaves them unsaid; Sophie and her mother calmly let the tiger fill himself up and leave.
...and he drank all the milk,Is there a more perfect picture book?
and all the orange juice,
and all Daddy's beer,
and all the water in the tap.