The Tiger Who Came to Tea is one of the most popular children’s stories of all time. It was first published by HarperCollins in 1968 and was written and illustrated by Judith Kerr.
The book is all about a little girl called Sophie, her mummy and a rather cheeky tiger who invites himself to their afternoon tea. But how does all the roar-some drama of the day unfold? Let’s take a closer look. And if you really love the story, you can watch a production of the same name live on stage. The Tiger Who Came to Tea theatre show is currently touring and is one of the best things to do in Cambridge, so don’t miss out.
The story starts off with Sophie having tea with her mummy in the kitchen. The pair are disturbed by a ring on the doorbell and mummy wonders who it might be. It can’t be the milkman she says, as he comes in the morning. And it can’t be the boy from the grocery shop because it’s the wrong day. It also can’t be daddy because he’s got his key.
When Sophie opens the door, she discovers a big, furry, stripy tiger there waiting. The tiger says he’s very hungry and asks to come in for tea. He sits at the table and Sophie’s mummy offers him a sandwich. But he doesn’t just take one sandwich, he eats them all - and is still hungry. The tiger then eats all the buns, biscuits and cake until there’s nothing left. He then drinks all the tea and milk before searching the entire kitchen for food, gobbling up the dinner on the stove, everything in the fridge and anything in a can. This is all washed down with all the water in the taps and even daddy’s beer. He then leaves, never to be seen again.
With no food or drink left in the house and no water left in the bath, Sophie and her mummy are left confused. When daddy comes home, he takes them to a cafe for dinner in the dark. It’s a very exciting experience for Sophie who doesn’t usually go outside. The next day, Sophie and her mum go shopping, buying a huge can of tiger food - just in case he came to tea again.
Kerr grew up in pre-World War Two Berlin and as her father was a Jewish intellectual, they were forced to flee Germany when Hitler took power. Many people think her fear of being caught by Nazis or strangers showing up on the doorstep inspired the story. But according to Judith, it was nothing more than something imagined. The author stated:
“It was just a bedtime story I made up for my daughter when she was two, getting on for three. I knew it by heart, every word. It hadn't changed because you watch your child's face and obviously you leave out bits gradually if they look bored. I told it to her again and again and again, and she used to say, 'Talk the tiger'. When I decided to do the book, I remember wondering what the tiger should look like, whether he should have clothes.”
Kerr loved visiting the zoo with her daughter Tacy, and particularly liked looking at the "beautiful" tigers. So this surely influenced her storytelling.
If you’re looking for activities in Cambridge, don’t miss The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It really is one of the best Cambridge attractions for youngsters.