Planet Picture Book

The Secret Life of a Tiger

In the daytime, Tiger likes to eat, sleep, socialise and snack, but once the sun goes down his unusual and entertaining secret life unfolds.

This title appeared on a fabulous list of recently translated books posted during World Kid Lit Month. It looked like so much fun that I ordered it then and there. I’m glad I did!

Tiger is a cheerful, chatty protagonist who clearly enjoys talking about his life, which mainly involves eating, sleeping and socialising during the day . . . according to his first-person narrative. Other creatures in the jungle tell a different story: Tiger is ‘wild’ and ‘dangerous’ and known to bite. At nightfall, however, a series of surprises is in store. Tiger tells us about the unbelievably crazy things he engages in, like giving orangutans haircuts, hopping into a nest to hatch some parrot eggs and hypnotising some ants before building them an anthill with a flick of his tail. Yes, he’s a friendly, fun-loving feline with a penchant for hairdressing and other unusual (for-a-tiger) activities!

Or is he? It was at the anthill scene that I started to question the accuracy of Tiger’s stories. A flick of a tail is surely more destructive than constructive, after all! I also questioned Tiger’s motivation. Is he actually out to cause trouble, I wondered? I think the language in these scenes holds some clues (‘I sneak’, ‘I pounce’, ‘I leap’), as do the illustrations. The creatures Tiger interacts with don’t look altogether smitten by him, especially those poor ants.

There is much to enjoy in this picture book import from Poland – not just the text. Emilia Dziubak’s illustrations are glorious, depicting the dense jungle in greens of every possible hue, enlivened by bursts of colour. The cartoon-like animals hold real appeal: they are alive with movement, expression and humour. Tiger is obviously the star of the show, but I also particularly like the orangutans with their elaborate updos and the dozy cobra who is tied in knots.

I also like the way the publisher has used different font sizes and cases to emphasise specific moments in the text. There’s no escaping this is a story about a ‘TIGER’ in the very large caps used to introduce him on the first page. Readers may also enjoy the loud and very long ‘Aaaaagrrrrrrrhhhhh’ Tiger yawn and his even louder ‘Roaar!’ I know I do, especially when I read this book aloud!

So, is Tiger telling tall stories or the truth? Is he a trouble-maker or a big softie with rather sharp teeth? The Secret Life of a Tiger is a very entertaining, gorgeously illustrated read.

The Book
The Secret Life of a Tiger by Przemystaw Wechterowicz, illustrated by Emilia Dziubak, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (words and pictures, Quarto Group, 2018)

The Author
Przemystaw Wechterowicz has published more than 27 titles, including children’s picture books, poems and plays, which have been translated into multiple languages. His work has garnered him many awards; four of his titles are included in the prestigious White Ravens lists. He lives in Warsaw with his wife, daughter and an elderly cat.

The Illustrator
Emilia Dziubak is an award-winning Polish illustrator. She graduated from The Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, Poland, where she lives and works today.

The Translator
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a literary translator from Polish to English. She has translated works across genres, including contemporary novels, reportages, crime fiction, poetry and children’s books. In 2018, she received the Transatlantyk Award for the most outstanding promoter of Polish literature abroad.

You can read more about Antonia Lloyd-Jones in this fascinating interview with Caroline Alberoni, in which she mentions that ‘Polish illustrated children’s books represent an unexploited goldmine’.

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