BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: The Time Traveller and The Tiger (available here)
Author: Tania Unsworth
Illustrator: Helen Crawford-White
Publisher: Zephyr Books
Publication Date: October 2020
Most Suitable for: Years 4-6
Review by: Louise Buisson
Eleven year old Elsie leads an unremarkable life; overshadowed by everyone and everything around her. In her daydreams and the stories which she writes though, she is Kelsie Corvette- a brilliant adventurer who can turn her hand to anything and who dazzles anyone she meets. During the summer holidays, Elsie finds herself being sent to stay with her ancient Great Uncle for what she anticipates will be an extraordinarily boring week. Then, she meets the tiger in his spare room.
It’s a tiger skin to be exact and Elsie’s great uncle explains his great regret at shooting it whilst living in colonial India as a boy. His love of India is shown by the greenhouse in which he grows many exotic plants from his childhood home. Elsie is captivated by an empty pot, which, as John explains, contains an extremely rare seed dubbed ‘the flower which catches time’. This seed was given to John by his long-lost best friend on his last day in India and is rumoured only to flower once in a person’s lifetime. Seventy years after planting it, John is still waiting…
However, John is not destined to be the recipient of the flower’s magic powers. Elsie discovers it flowering the very next morning and is instantly transported to India. In I946. Upon meeting the child version of her great uncle, Elsie realises that her mission is to stop him shooting the tiger- the act which has bought him so much sadness. So Elsie introduces herself as Kelsie and seizes the chance to live the life of her alter ego. In her adventure with John, she faces great danger and adversity through the challenges of the Indian jungle and the encountering of a particularly deadly hunter named Sowerby. Will she be able to stop the killing of the tiger and the cruel treatment of a young Indian boy? And, will she ever get back to 2020?
The Time Traveller and The Tiger provides an excellent adventure story and also the opportunities to discuss themes including: endangered animals, hunting, the treatment of the natives of the British Colonies and attitudes towards women in the 1940s.
SETTING A STORY IN A TIME OF SOCIAL INJUSTICE
by Tania Unsworth , author of The Time Traveller and the Tiger (available here)
My latest book, The Time Traveller and the Tiger is set in 1946 in India under British rule. I chose that era because I felt I knew something about it; my (British) grandparents were born in the country. They left in 1947 when my mother was thirteen. Also, I wanted to write about tigers. And about time travelling.
I didn’t choose it because I wanted to focus on the exploitation and systemic racism of colonial India. In fact, the whole subject gave me great trepidation. It wasn’t that I felt I was forbidden to tackle it (being white and the descendent of colonials) or that I had to ‘stay in my lane’. It was that I knew I couldn’t do it properly. And I hated the thought of having to get it checked by more qualified people in the hope of getting it ‘right’, because how right can it be if you need to get it checked?
My rule is not ‘write what you know’. It’s more write what you can imagine.
Besides, I wanted to write about tigers.
I decided that I could avoid (or at least minimize) the issue by having almost all my story take place in the jungle, safely away from the complications of human society. Of course, I would reference the injustice of British rule, but I’d only have to do it in a fleeting sort of way…
Two sentences into the first chapter, I knew it wasn’t going to work. Ducking the issue would have been like sitting down today to write a book set in 2020 in which Covid 19 is only mentioned in a footnote. At best inauthentic, at worst, revisionist. You can’t set a story in a time and place without that time and place becoming part of the story. But at the same time, I don’t believe that moral education is the primary purpose of children’s fiction. I didn’t feel it was my role to write a sermon.
Finding the right balance was hard, I’m not sure I completely managed it. But here are some of the ways I explored themes of social injustice without (hopefully) disrespecting historical reality or becoming too preachy:
Point of view: A large part of the story is seen through the eyes of Elsie – a girl from the present day. This felt like a natural way of highlighting the differences – disturbing, uncomfortable or simply funny – between then and now. Elsie’s reactions to the values and attitudes she encounters speak for themselves.
Character development: One of my main characters is John, a twelve-year-old British boy in India. Although he’s a kind, very decent person, he’s not particularly socially enlightened. I felt it was important to present him as a product of his time rather than someone with saintly self-awareness. It gave me the opportunity to show him confronting change, beginning – in a small way – to question his assumptions about class and race.
Using humour: When Elsie accuses John of being ‘sexist’, he thinks she’s talking about something else, and goes bright red with embarrassment. This kind of humorous approach allowed me to bring a light touch to serious issues.
Metaphor: The Time Traveller and the Tiger is a straightforward adventure story, but it occurred to me quite early on that there were strong parallels between the treatment of tigers in my book and colonialism itself. I kept this in mind as I wrote, although I tried not to labour the metaphor.
Often, the most powerful connections are those the reader makes for herself.
THE TIME TRAVELLER AND THE TIGER by Tania Unsworth is out now in hardback (£12.99, Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus)
Many thanks to the publishers for sending us a review copy and to Loris for the guest post.
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