Snuggled beside my grandmother, I would listen, mesmerized, as the black and white tigers on the page raced round and round a tree until they just melted . . . into butter! Do you remember this story? Written by Helen Bannerman, it was first published under a different title in 1899. The black and white pictures I recall were replaced with deliciously colorful illustrations by Fred Marcellino in this 1996 edition.
Tigers have been a theme around my house over the past year. After reading his daddy’s collector’s editions of Calvin and Hobbes, my eight-year-old fell in love with tigers. His large stuffed tiger (who is rapidly becoming as “real” as the Velveteen Rabbit) goes almost everywhere with him and never fails to “pounce” on him the minute he gets home from school. He and his school buddy love to argue about which is better: lions or tigers! (My son was chagrined when he discovered in a library book that it was, indeed, a tie.)
Little One, who was previously enamored with lions, has requested The Story of Little Babaji again and again since I first read it to him earlier this month. (His older brother, who used to do the same, still enjoys reading it.) I’ve never met a child who wasn’t fascinated with this little book. I suppose that’s why the tigers who take all of Babaji’s fine new clothes are just as alive to the children of 2014 as they were to the little girl version of me, my grandmother, and even my great-grandmother.
When they are very happy, my boys like to make the expression on Babaji’s face as he sits down to a pancake supper (made with tiger butter!) near the end of this story. When they grin wide, with eyes scrunched up and head tilted to one side, I can’t help but laugh and growl, “Little Babaji,” as if I’m a tiger about to pounce.
If you haven’t read this to the children in your life, find it at the library, and give them this imaginative experience! (I highly recommend doing a different “voice” for each of the four tigers.) Soon, you will be seeing the “Little Babaji expression” of wild delight on each of their faces.