The Sea Tiger

Dora has a lot of favourite books. We try to keep them on her own wee bookshelf in her room, but as the days and weeks roll on after a big tidy-up, they inevitably gather in a strata by her bed. That teetering stack becomes an archaeology of her favourites. There are all sorts in there, but some books are never far from the top. Where The Wild Things Are. The Gruffalo, Zog, Room On The Broom. We’re Going On a Bear Hunt. The absolutely terrifying Tailypo. Mrs Gaddy & The Ghost. I Want My Hat Back.

Dora’s current favourite is called The Sea Tiger. We spotted it in Waterstones while we were in Scotland last month, and we couldn’t resist. It’s a extraordinarily beautiful book:

The dance

The Sea Tiger is Oscar’s best friend – his only friend. They do everything together. Where the Sea Tiger leads, Oscar follows. They explore, they have adventures, until a point comes where Oscar needs the strength to go alone. It’s a book about being brave.

To celebrate World Book Week, all the children at nursery were asked to bring in their favourite story. Dora chose The Sea Tiger without hesitation. We packed her off for the day, lunchbox and wellies, slippers and book. I didn’t think another thing of it until I came home that night.

‘Did everyone at nursery like The Sea Tiger?’

Dora thought about it, then remembered. Her face clouded over. ‘No. It’s a silly book.’

I was astonished. ‘What? Did someone not like it?’

‘They thought it was silly,’ she said, face scrunched into a frown.

I was dumbstruck. She was repulsed by her favourite book. Why would other kids have disliked it? Too weird? Too odd? Too magical? Compared to what? All the books she loves are weird and odd and magical. Children are weird and odd and magical. All that anarchy, that chaos, exploring and categorising this insane planet for the first time.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. I’ve been absolutely shaken by my daughter’s first true experience of shame. She was ashamed, ashamed of something that she loved. That’s heartbreaking. Three years old, and another step on the long path to adulthood checked off the list.

I read The Sea Tiger again, to myself. It is everything a children’s book should be. Surreal, wild, enchanting, transporting. It’s a book about imagination and courage. It’s a book about finding your own way. I thought of Robin Williams and that little spark of madness we mustn’t lose. I thought about what I write, why I write, seeking out those kernels of magic and madness and paying them whatever meagre tribute I can muster.

Dora wouldn’t even look at the book last night, but this morning I read it to myself until she came to join me. She was as entranced as ever, thrilled and enchanted by Oscar and the tiger and their undersea adventures. That helped, but I feel very much like it was a finger in the dyke, plugging up an overwhelming inundation of the ordinary, the acceptable, the normal. I hope Dora clings to her spark of madness. I hope she never lets it go. For her next years of play, of princesses and pirates, of dinosaurs and monsters and treasure and kittens, it’s up to Mon and I to nourish it, to feed it, to fuel the fires of her imagination. That is our role as parents: curators, not makers. But then will come the homework, the tests, the clothes, the friends and the not-friends anymore, Dad, the cycles of approval and rejection. When she leaves us, she’ll have to feed her own fires.

I know all this is melodramatic. I have always tended towards extremes, especially in my words, but that’s who I am. I hope we can give Dora both the space and the guidance to be whoever she is. And I hope, with every fibre of my soul, that she stays more a tiger than a princess.

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4 comments

  1. moonlitspirituality

    From a crazy lady to a beautiful, crazy little girl, stay true to what you love because other people will always take a little piece away if you let them, and it’s up to you to stay whole, and strong, and to see the beauty in the crazy and unusual. Good luck, Simon, felt sad for that little piece of magick that has been taken from her by someone who probably has a regular diet of soap opera and TV that is otherwise unsuitable for children.

  2. Raechel Buxton

    You may find that the other children have not been exposed to such a vast, and varied collection as your daughter Simon, I know people are astonished when they realise Benjamin has Dr Seuss, most of the title you mentioned, knows how to read a map and can identify Australia, where we live exactly on it. Unfortunately some parents buy a lot of rubbish “trendy and marketed’ crap. The kids that thought it silly probably did not understand the story. I for one will be on the look out for it! Have you read her ‘I love You Stinky Face’ ?

  3. drrossbarnett

    Shame only exists when we let others dictate what and how we should love. By showing Dora that the book still has magic, despite what nursery may say, you have given her the best defence against shame. You have shown her that she can be right, and supported by you and Mon, that her rightness does not need the validation of others to be so.

  4. Pingback: Verbalise at the Brewery | Simon Sylvester

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