Iris and the Tiger begins as an old-fashioned adventure story. Iris, a twelve year old of mixed Chinese/Australian heritage, is sent to visit her Great Aunt Ursula Freer in her Spanish estate, ostensibly so that she will be a beneficiary in her will rather than any of the servants. Iris, uncomfortable that her parents have asked her to spy on an old lady, is further befuddled by glimpses of oddity, bannister railings that come alive, sunflowers that play tennis, musical notes that scuttle across the pages like ants, but puts it down to jet lag at first. But the deceased Uncle James, Ursula’s brother, was a renowned surrealist painter and surreal and magical happenings abound on the estate, which is under threat from developers. Slowly, with the help of a game of Exquisite Corpse and the gardener’s son, Jordi, Iris realises the true nature of the surreal magic that James Freer has left.
Iris and the Tiger reminded me a little of the wonderful episodes in Diana Wynne-Jones’s The Ogre Downstairs in which a magical chemistry set is the enabling device for kids to defy their unpleasant stepfather. Here, Iris finds in magic the strength to stand up to her overbearing parents.
A lovely book for an art-loving kid of maybe 9+ and great encouragement to play a round or two of Exquisite Corpse yourselves. And here’s more on surrealism for kids