Whenever I heard of Judith Kerr‘s death, I was deeply saddened. Of course (and unfortunately) I didn’t know her personally, but I had always perceived Judith Kerr as one of the biggest stars amongst children’s book authors and illustrators. She was on my personal literary ‘Walk of Fame’. Somehow her books always seemed to be like “friends” in the bookshelf… Yes, that sounds a bit strange, but what I mean is that you always get that ‘cosy feeling’ when you read one of Kerr’s books to a child. This is also why sometimes Judith Kerr’s books become part of our Wee Bookworms Book Subscriptions.
Add a blanket and the necessary number of mugs of hot chocolate to the scenario and you have already created a reading nook.
Kerr invited us to tea with a tiger and we joined Mog on her adventures. In the semi-autobiographical story ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit‘ we ‘experienced’ Nazi-Germany from the viewpoint of Anna, a Jewish girl.
“But it won’t be the same – we won’t belong. Do you think we’ll ever really belong anywhere?” “I suppose not,” said Papa. “Not the way people belong who have lived in one place all their lives.”- Judith Kerr, When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit.
Judith Kerr passed away at the age of 95 on the 22nd of May 2019. Shortly after her death, I watched a documentary on her life. She appeared to have been a very nice, down to earth person with a lot of wit and humour.
Kerr’s personal life and experiences influenced her work to a great extent.
She was born in Berlin in 1923 to German-Jewish Alfred Kerr and his wife Julia Weissman. Alfred Kerr openly criticised the Nazi-regime and thus, in 1933, the entire family (Kerr also had a younger brother) fled from Germany. They only arrived in Zurich (Switzerland) one day before Hitler won the elections. Shortly afterwards, books that had been written by Alfred Kerr, who was a theatre critic and newspaper columnist, were burned by the Nazis.
Judith Kerr was only 12 years old when her family eventually settled in England. Beforehand, they had lived in Switzerland and France. As you can see, her own experiences inspired her to write ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, which was published in 1971.
During the war, Kerr worked for the Red Cross and looked after wounded soldiers. Later she received a scholarship to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. She was a freelance artist in her 20s and also taught at a technical college. Her husband, who worked as a screenwriter for the BBC, encouraged her to take up a job as a TV script-reader. Yet, whenever their children Tacy and Matthew were born, Kerr quit her job and focused on her family.
One day, when Judith and Tacy were alone at home and hoped for a visitor, Kerr came up with a story about a tiger…and the rest is history. The Tiger who came to Tea was Kerr’s first picture book that was published in 1968.
Throughout her career, Kerr published over 30 books!
As someone who really, really loves cats, Mog, the Forgetful Cat, is my favourite book by Kerr. There are 17 Mog Books in total. The almost-final one, Goodbye Mog, is incredibly sad as Mog passes away.
Perhaps you also can remember the Sainsbury Christmas advert ‘Mog’s Christmas Calamity’? Well, technically, the book it was based on was the last one of the Mog series. One could say that Mog was resurrected for Christmas in 2015.
By the way, the character Mog was based on a cat that used to sit on Kerr’s lap while she was working. Kerr loved cats: Big cats and small ones! After Mog, Katinka was born and the picture book Katinka’s Tail was published in 2017.
“Mog always seems to be in trouble because she is such a very forgetful cat. She forgets that she has a cat flap and she forgets when she has already eaten her supper. But one night, when an uninvited visitor turns up at the house, Mog’s forgetfulness comes in very handy!” Judith Kerr, Mog the Forgetful Cat.
The Curse of the School Rabbit, Judith Kerr’s final book, was only published in July this year!
Kerr was a truly incredible and inspirational author and illustrator. I’m sure her legacy will live on forever.