…even if you can recite the book by heart.
1. Judith Kerr’s beloved tiger turns 50 this month. A little cuddly but certainly no pussy cat – you can tell he’d pounce just like that – this slinky beast owes his verisimilitude to the hours that Kerr put in at London zoo. Nowadays, she Googles animals she wants to draw but back then, there was nothing for it but to pack her sketchbook and head to Regent’s Park.
2. The story began as a bedtime story for her daughter, Tacy, who was then nearing three. It contains all the things that Tacy loved at the time, like going out in the dark. Though Kerr dreamt up other bedtime stories, it was Tiger that was most popular.
3. All the same, she was surprised – and remains so – that the book was such a hit. “I’m still amazed that people are willing to pay me for doing what I love”, she says.
4. In the Welsh edition, Sophie, the little girl, is renamed Catrin. Other editions have been published in Japanese, German and Braille.
5. Michael Rosen has theorised that the tiger represents the Nazi threat faced by her family when she was a small girl in Germany. Leaving behind all that they owned, the Kerrs fled for their lives in 1933, settling in England after being refused entry to America. This seems an obtusely literal reading. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt that if any aspect of the story is a reflection of that chapter of the author’s childhood, it’s the plangent note on which the book ends. The magical tiger never does come back, does he? As for Kerr, she insists that the tiger is just a tiger. As she pithily retorts, “You wouldn’t snuggle the Gestapo, would you?”
6. Brace yourselves, but a television adaptation is on the way. A hand-drawn animation, it’s being produced in close collaboration with Kerr’s publishers by the UK’s Lupus Films, whose credits include We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and The Snowman & The Snowdog.
7. Really brace yourselves: Tiger has inspired its own ‘canon divergent’ fan fiction.
8. A signed first edition will set you back around £500.
9. The book has sold more than 5 million copies since it was published.
10. To mark its 50th anniversary, HarperCollins is releasing a trove of goodies: a new paperback edition with a foreword by Kerr, a new board book, and a CD of Kerr’s stories read by Phyllida Law, Geraldine McEwan and Susan Sheridan. Later on in the year there’ll be a hardback pop-up book and – this does sound a treat – an anniversary slip-cased hardback edition, complete with sketches and notes from the making of the book. Finally, if you’re stuck for party ideas (I was going to say children’s parties but why should they have all the fun?), there’s a spiral-bound book about how to host the perfect tea party.
Bonus fact? This one’s not Tiger-specific but I deft you to read it without a smile: along with endless coffee, 94-year-old Kerr has a Martini Rosso on ice with her lunch everyday. As she told The Guardian last year, “It gives me energy to keep going in the afternoons”.
And just because I’m so very particular about the prose in picture books (let’s just say that there are certain favourites in our house whose texts I’m less than faithful to as I read aloud – a trick that’s obviously only going to work so long as a certain little someone can’t read enough to check up on me), let’s give the mighty Kerr herself the last word:
I think there should be as few words in a picture book as possible, and they have to be exactly right, so I mull over the words while I walk, whether something should be an “and” .
Now then, where’s that Martini Rosso…? Here’s to you, Judith Kerr, with thanks from all of us.