Julia Golding - author of The Tigers in the Tower (available here) - has picked out her top five recommended children's books featuring tigers.
How many children’s books can you think of that feature tigers? I had a fun time coming up with this list and it made me realise something: many of us authors choose tigers because they are the most outrageously beautiful AND dangerous creatures you can imagine in a tale. Think about it. There are other dangerous creature – top three on my list being sharks, snakes, spiders – but they are also for many people repellent or scary. There are many beautiful creatures – horses, butterflies, birds – but they don’t bring with them that spine-tingling fear. Tigers are THE animal for both!
So here are my top five books in reverse order....
The Dancing Tiger
Malachy Doyle, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
I first heard about this book when I was in Yorkshire teaching creative writing with Malachy himself – and I instantly fell in love with the picture of the tiger prancing in the moonlight on the cover. Malachy is a wonderful storyteller from Ireland so imagine it with his soft accent making the words dance! It is also a rhyming story so burrows its way into your mind: ‘There’s a quiet, gentle tiger/In the woods below the hill…’ It is also challenges the idea that tigers are scary – quite the opposite in this case – so is the perfect, calming bedtime story for little ones.
Life of Pi
This sits somewhere between a YA novel and an adult one, but has one of the best closing lines of any book I know: ‘Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.’ It’s a clever book that functions on many levels – as an animal tale or a story of horrific struggle to survive a shipwreck. Pi (the narrator) gives us – and the insurers in the book – the choice as to which interpretation they wish to choose. Was the tiger real or was it what Pi became in order to survive…?
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
This book is possibly the most famous book with a tiger that I know. It is very funny as the family have to work out just what to do when a tiger turns up to have tea. The meaning of the story is debated. Michael Rosen, former Children’s Laureate and poet, suggested it was based on the author’s memories of living in Berlin in the 1930s and the very real danger of a knock on the door with a tigerish visit from the secret police, but Judith herself said it was simply a tale dreamt up to entertain her three-year-old daughter after a visit to a zoo. For me, when I read it to my own children, it had the message that wonderful things don’t stay forever so enjoy the chaos while it is with you, just like Sophie does!
The Jungle Books
I didn’t get around to reading the source material for the films with the same name until recently and Kipling’s two collections of stories are not what I expected. I think a lot of people feel they’ve read the books because of the films, but, trust me, they often haven’t from their descriptions of the content. Go and check out the stories for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. The story of Mowgli that provides the backbone to the cartoon is told in fits and starts with other tales interwoven. Kipling’s is a much tougher, wilder world than the Disney version, much more like ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ that you would find in a real jungle. It also has an interesting historical context as Kipling is one of the writers most closely linked to the British Empire in India – that regime had something of a tiger quality in the way it ruled India. Maybe, unwittingly, Kipling is providing readers with a commentary on the locals finally getting free from a fearsome presence? Shere Khan the tiger is a child-stealing, livestock-eating menace to the village and Mowgli is the trickster who outwits him – a theme of The Jungle Books whenever Mowgli appears. It is a good reminder that no matter how beautiful they are, tigers are top predators and I certainly wouldn’t want to meet one in the wild!
This is the title of a poem and included in a collection illustrated by the poet called Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794). His tiger in his illustration is a very friendly looking beast but the words ring out like bells and trumpets, blasting us with the power of the tiger. It is a poem that demands to be read aloud and haunted me as I wrote The Tigers in the Tower, so much so that I named the book’s sections after images from the piece. I have a strong memory associated with it. When I was ten, my primary school teacher wrote it up on a blackboard one day (yes, with chalk!) and we all had to copy and learn it if we could. That was an old-fashioned way of teaching even then. However, the poem is still in my mind as I write this, like a spell I can chant to summon the spirit of the tiger! Have a go. Here are a few lines…
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tigers in the Tower
Julia's own new book,, The Tigers in the Tower, is a gripping historical adventure of tragedy, adventure, hope, belonging and two majestic Indian tigers, perfect for readers aged 9+ and for fans of Emma Carroll.
Sahira's family are travelling to England to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the tower of London.
But tragedy strikes and sickness steals Sahira's parents from her on the journey. Left alone in London, Sahira finds herself confined to a miserable and dangerous orphanage. Despite her heartache and the threats she faces, Sahira is determined to carry out her father's last request to protect God's beautiful creatures: her tigers. To do so, Sahira must set out on an adventure and use all her powers of persuasion to engage the help of some new friends along the way.
Can the quest to find her tigers a safe home lead Sahira to find her own place of hope and belonging in this strange and foreign land?