Recently the BBC interviewed Judith Kerr, author of many popular children’s books including The Tiger Who Came to Tea, published in 1968. What began as a bedtime story made up for her young daughter soon became a bestseller, and a favourite among children and parents alike for more than 40 years – it hasn’t been out of print since its publication. But it was interesting to read that it has strong roots in Kerr’s own childhood, when she and her family fled Nazi Germany.
The tiger in question invites himself to tea at the house of a little girl – after ringing the doorbell, he eats and drinks everything in the house before leaving, never to return. As described in this article, it could be that this is a case of unconscious inspiration, as children’s author Michael Rosen describes. The tiger could be interpreted as an underlying threat from Kerr’s past; something that appears out of the blue, threatening to rob her and her family of their possessions and their safety.
“Judith knows about dangerous people who come to your house and take people away. She was told as a young child that her father could be grabbed at any moment by either the Gestapo or the SS – he was in great danger. So I don’t know whether Judith did it consciously or not – I wouldn’t want to go there – but the point is he’s a jokey tiger, but he is a tiger.”