Undoubtedly one of the leading lights of children’s fiction Judith Kerr was much loved by reader’s everywhere. Her stories, be it those of the archetypal mischievous Mog the ravenous visitor The Tiger Who Came to Tea or her autobiographically inspired series Out of the Hitler Time, were always inspired by the world that surrounded her and her own fascinating life story.
As we mark the sad death of the children’s author and illustrator, we celebrate the life and work of a writer whose stories defined millions of childhoods.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
The Tiger Who Came to Tea Toys & Games
Other Picture Books Written and Illustrated by Judith Kerr
From Berlin to the BBC: The Out of the Hitler Time Trilogy
Other Books by Judith Kerr
A Small Person, Far Away
Kerr spent her early childhood in Berlin; her father - the popular critic, author and playwright Alfred Kerr - was an early detractor of Adolf Hitler and his books were amongst those thrown into the flames at the Nazi book burnings in the Opernplatz. By the early 1930’s Alfred Kerr was on the publicized Nazi ‘death list’ and the family were forced to flee when Judith was just ten years old, leaving on a train for Czechoslovakia on the day that Hitler came to power.
It wasn’t until her children reached the age that she and her brother were when they escaped from Germany, that Kerr was inspired to write about her vivid memories of that time, publishing the fictional trilogy beginning with the memorably titled When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Kerr remembered her experiences as primarily an exciting adventure: ‘[people] would say, “it must have been awful.” But it wasn’t... I thought at the time that on the whole it was an improvement.’
Cats Big and Small
After travelling across Europe, Kerr finally settled in London and began her career as an artist before working in television where she met her future husband, the writer Nigel (Tom) Kneale (creator of Quatermass). They were married in 1954 and remained so until Tom’s death in 2006. Kerr wrote the picture book My Henry about their life together, a life Kerr described as ‘quite ordinary and the best thing in the world.’
Kerr first came up with the ideas for her children’s books when she was making up bedtime stories for her own children, beginning with an unexpected hungry visitor, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. As a child, Kerr had always longed for a cat and so her own family found themselves with a mischievous, clumsy cat called Mog and although the family went on to own a series of cats, their adventures all became Mog’s. When Kerr finally finished the series with the utterly heart-breaking Goodbye Mog in 2002, many readers (not to mention Waterstones’ booksellers across the land) needed more than a tissue or two to hand.
Awarded an OBE in 2012 for services to Children’s literature and Holocaust education, Kerr’s books have sold more than 9 million copies, have been translated into 25 languages and been adapted for stage and screen, including inspiring one of the most popular Christmas advertising campaigns of recent years.
Kerr continued to write and draw in the same room she worked in for more than 50 years throughout the later years of her life. Her last books are Mr Cleghorn’s Seal - dedicated to her father who, she writes (with typical Kerr humour) “once kept a seal on his balcony”- and Mummy Time.