The author, Judith Kerr, best known for her children’s story The Tiger Who Came to Tea has died, aged 95 according to a statement from HarperCollins today. Kerr was considered to be one of Britain’s most successful children’s authors and was still producing stories and illustrations well into her 90s.
A skilled illustrator, and the ability to see the world from a children’s perspective made Judith Kerr one of the most talented children’s writers the world has ever seen. From the Tiger Who Came to Tea, to the Mog the Cat stories, Kerr had a way of talking to children and passing on important messages.
Judith Kerr was born in 1923, the child of the pre-war German intelligentsia. When Hitler came to power Kerr and her parents fled Germany, a story she would relive in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the rest of this trilogy. The child of a Jewish family her father Alfred Kerr was a prominent theatre critic and a vocal critic of the Nazi regime. Shortly before the party took power, Kerr was warned that there were plans to confiscate his passport and he left immediately for Prague with his family following soon after, a day later, the Gestapo arrived to arrest them.
The family would travel to London, via Paris where Kerr would learn English, train as a secretary and work for the Red Cross during the war. Later she received a scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts and would for a while work as an art teacher. It was here she would meet her husband, Nigel Kneale who would go on to write sci-fi show The Quatermass, like him she would go on to be a BBC scriptwriter.
As a stay at home mother in the 1950s, boredom set her imagination running and she began to tell her children a story of a tiger that came to tea. When her children went to school she sat and wrote the story and drew accompanying pictures to go with it. The Tiger Who Came to Tea was published in 1968 and has never been out of print since. When her son complained that his books were boring, she embarked on the Mog series, eventually writing seventeen picture books about a family cat, first published in 1970.
Judith Kerr never shied from her roots and stated in interviews she had faced the possibility of death as a child in Nazi-occupied Europe. In an interview on Desert Island Discs in 2004 she told Sue Lawley “I think of the business of the Holocaust, and the one and a half million children who didn’t get out as I got out, in the nick of time — I think about them almost every day now, because I’ve had such a happy and fulfilled life and they’d have given anything to have had just a few days of it. And I hope I’ve not wasted any of it: I try to get the good of every bit of it because I know they would have done if they’d had the chance.”
I think we can safely say Kerr got her wish and lived a full and happy life without a moment wasted. Rest well, Judith, thanks for all the stories!