The Tiger Who Came to Tea is now a much-loved classic, written and illustrated by Judith Kerr and published in 1968. But what first sparked the idea, and how did it burst into life?
This is the author’s sketchbook, with drawings of tigers and kitchens, and her original artworks, which glow with vibrant colour.
What happens in The Tiger Who Came to Tea?
Sophie and her mother are having tea in the kitchen, when a huge, hungry tiger rings on the doorbell. Without batting an eyelid, they invite him in to eat with them. He swallows all the food in the house and drinks all the drink, including Daddy’s beer and all the water in the tap. Then he waves goodbye and leaves. When Daddy comes home, he suggests that they go out in the dark to a café. They have a wonderful supper of sausages, chips and ice cream, and the next day they stock up on tins of Tiger Food.
Who would you like to knock on your front door?
How did Judith Kerr get the idea for The Tiger Who Came to Tea?
The author tells how she used to love going to the zoo with her daughter, Tacy. They would ‘stand and gaze’ at the tigers and other ‘extraordinary creatures’. At home, they were sometimes lonely, as Kerr’s husband Tom was out filming. They wished ‘something would happen’, so Kerr ‘made up a story about a tiger coming to tea’. It became Tacy’s favourite, and Kerr learned it off by heart.
Sketchbook drawings and artworks
When Tacy and her brother started school, Kerr returned to the story. She had been to art school, and worked as a painter, teacher and textile designer, before getting a job writing scripts for the BBC. But this was her very first picture book, originally called Tacy and the Tiger.
Kerr went back to the zoo with her sketchbook, to draw the tigers in pencil. She modelled the iconic kitchen on the one in her own house.
After lots of adjustments, Kerr made the final artworks in inks, gouache and coloured pencil, with some lines in black pen. Here you can see the title page, marked up with notes for the printer, some of which are in Chinese.
Label by British Library Learning in partnership with Seven Stories.
 Judith Kerr’s Creatures (Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2013), pp. 67–75.