Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Tiger!

Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

This verse is just the first in the wonderful poem by William Blake which was one of my father’s favourites. He used to recite it to all his secondary school English classes.

It’s a poem that surely makes anyone who hears or reads it feel incredibly aware of the power and beauty of the tiger. And tigers have been in my mind over the last few days following the death of Judith Kerr, author of the hugely-loved children’s picture-book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I first got to know that book during the first four years of what would become my storytelling life. A leaflet on the notice board of Brixton Library had led to my applying for a job on the Lambeth Libraries Storytelling Scheme. How different my life would have been if I hadn’t got that job. Very part-time and very badly paid, it involved doing picture-books with young children in various Lambeth centres during the mornings and telling stories to older children in the afternoons.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea invariably went down well. But of course, even if a book has excellent words and engaging pictures, you still have to learn how to catch and keep the children’s attention. Voice, atmosphere and pacing are hugely important. The Tiger Who Came to Tea is supremely well-judged, a book that’s good for putting across with one child on your lap or many in the audience before you. It has put me in mind of that little folktale about the tiger and the mouse.

Remember the one?

The Tiger and the Mouse: the folktale

The tiger says he’s going to eat a little mouse who has got in his way when he’s marching through the forest. The little mouse protests, ‘Don’t eat me!’ saying that one day he might be able to help the tiger. ‘You?’ blares the tiger. ‘You’re very small and weak. How could you ever help me?’ ‘Try me and see,’ says the little mouse.

Well, the tiger spares the mouse and times go on until the day the tiger is trapped by some hunters who bind him up and tie him to a tree while they go to fetch their truck to haul him away.

Of course, you know what happens. The hunters leave, the little mouse happens by and, seeing the plight of the tiger, nibbles through the ropes that bind him. This makes the tiger very contrite. ‘From now on,’ he says to the little mouse. ‘You will always be my friend.’

If only the world were really like that! My personal impression is that tigers carry on being tigers.

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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Tiger!”

  1. Annalee Curran Says:

    Yes, I was touched to hear the news of Judith Kerr’s death. I had only the day before flagged up The Tiger who Came to Tea in a message to my 16 year old grandson who was writing his GCSE English Lit that day; I hoped, I said, that he had been revising his Tiger who Came to Tea and The Bear Hunt in preparation for his exam as those would have been firm foundation stones of his journey in literature!
    Thank you for all the tiger references, Mary!

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Tigers have kept springing up! Re-reading Gerontion just now (poem by T.S. Eliot), I was reminded of the following:

    The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.

    May they keep on springing and summering too!

    With love, Mary

  3. Hilary Minns Says:

    Thank you, Mary. What a wonderful human being she was – a good writer and illustrator and one of the best storytellers too. I urge everyone who is interested in Judith Kerr to read Nancy Banks-Smith’s personal reflection.

    ‘Judith Kerr was both sweetness and steel – and I’ll miss her’

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/23/judith-kerr-nancy-banks-smith

    Hilary Minns

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Hilary,
    Yes, it was a lovely reflection by Nancy Banks-Smith. And I’ve been so much enjoying thinking back to The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Tigers are powerful creatures to have around.
    All the best, Mary

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