The Time Traveller and the Tiger introduces us, in the first two chapters, to both time zones that this story is set in, 1946 India and 2020 England, and the main character, Elsie. Elsie is a twelve-year-old twentieth-century girl writing stories about Kelsie Corvette who leads a remarkable life having adventures across the world. One summer holiday, when her mother gets the dates wrong, she sends Elsie to stay with her Great Uncle John and there begins Elsie’s very own adventure. Once at her uncle’s house Elsie inhales ‘the flower that catches time’ and finds herself magically time travelling to 1946 India and meeting her uncle as a young boy on a tiger hunt. What happens from here is a mission to save a tiger and change the future as Elsie tries to stop John from hunting the tiger, knowing his older self has already told her it was a wrong he can never right.
While Elsie and John try to find their way out of the forest, they meet up with John’s friend Mandeep, who she instinctively knows is connected to the mystery of the shooting of the tiger. They also discover some hunters who capture them, where they find that these are a group of hunters, terrible villains, hunters of wild animals with a trophy room filled with things made up from the animals they have killed. Elsie, John and Mandeep set out to find out a way to stop it in a race against time.
Through the character of Mandeep, we see the antithesis of the hunters, as we see his love of the natural world and its creatures, which gives a strong message of conservation and social justice. The terrible reality of wildlife hunting and the killing of wildlife and endangered species are key themes as are friendship and racial discrimination too. This is a book rich for discussion following a class read. The short chapters also make this perfect for a class read too. It is also appealing with the humour and interaction between Elsie and John as 2020 and 1946 twelve-year-olds with misunderstandings of two people living in different decades. This is also another discussion element in the story as it also shows the different attitudes that existed towards women in the 1940s. It is also this humour that creates a balance with the sinister element of the trophy hunters.
The tiger is central throughout this story and throughout we learn so much about this majestic animal without it becoming too factual. Tania Unsworth weaves this in brilliantly so that by the end of the book, you come to love and revere this amazing creature if you didn’t already! This is made more powerful by the fact that we also see the story intermittently from the tiger’s point of view. The setting of India is equally rich, and the story transports you into this part of the world beautifully through vivid descriptions of India.
The Time Traveller and the Tiger is a book aimed at 9-12-year-olds and has so many elements and themes that it will appeal to a wide range of book reading tastes. If you like mystery, adventure, time travel, history, conservation and stories about friendships and tigers then this is a book for you
Tania Unsworth talks to Nikki Gamble about The Time Traveller and the Tiger.
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