If you were lucky enough, as so many of us were, to grow up with Judith Kerr’s delightful stories of Mog the Forgetful Cat, then you’ll understand the wonder and beauty that Kerr brought to the world of children’s literature. From picture books like the Mog series and The Tiger Who Came to Tea to her novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Kerr’s books continue to bring endless joy to their readers. Kerr’s death at the age of ninety-five was announced by her publisher HarperCollins this morning.
Judith Kerr began writing to entertain her own children when she was in her forties. Two years ago, at age ninety-four, The Tiger Who Came to Tea sold its millionth copy. Sorry, I have to stop here because I’m already crying. Please give me a moment.
Okay, I have (somewhat) composed myself. Judith Kerr was born in Berlin in 1923 to parents Julia, a composer, and Alfred, a respected theater critic and columnist. The family was Jewish, and Alfred Kerr was an outspoke critic of the Nazis, necessitating the family’s flight from Germany in 1933, initially to Switzerland, followed by France, and finally, England. The family received a tip-off that Alfred’s passport was about to seized, and thus the family left in a hurry, first Alfred, then his wife and children three weeks later, leaving behind almost all their possessions. The children were allowed to take with them one toy each, and Judith chose a toy dog over the pink rabbit that had been her favorite prior to the dog’s arrival. The pink rabbit was never seen again. This experience inspired her classic semi-autobiographical novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit which follows a little girl called Anna whose family flee wartime Germany.
The Guardian notes that when the family was granted British citizenship, a film director bought a screenplay from her father, which provided the family with enough money to start anew, albeit humbly. They lived in a cheap hotel, enrolling Judith’s brother in school while Judith’s education was entrusted to the governess of an American family, who taught her to speak English. According to her interview with The Guardian, “Three kind ladies clubbed together to send her to boarding school.” She left school at sixteen and took a stenotyping course before winning a scholarship from the Central School of Arts and Crafts.
She subsequently held a number of positions painting nursery murals and teaching, yet she had little success with her art. She married screenwriter Nigel Kneale in 1954 and then worked as a television script-reader. Her children were born in 1958 and 1960. Their entertainment was what spurred her to create the characters of Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
Mog, though she passes away in the books (an occurrence the illustrations of which make me dissolve into a puddle of tears every time I see them), she came back to star in a Sainsbury’s Christmas ad that also makes me cry. Observe:
I am not the only one moved, enlightened, and inspired by Kerr, who published over thirty books in her long and storied lifetime. Her death at the age of ninety-six has led to an outpouring of affection and fond memories from journalists, writers, and lovers of her work. Let’s take a look at some of the best. Please have tissues at hand.
i went to a judith kerr talk where she said that when mog was translated into german she was stubbornly rendered in the text as a male cat "because feminism hadn't really hit there yet". pause. small smile. "so i waited some years and gave mog kittens and let them sort it out."
— reverse farmgirl (@tiltwithlips) May 23, 2019
While I am heartbroken about Judith Kerr, I know that to escape Nazis, build a life and family in a new country, create a wealth of books that generations of children and adults adore, and to go to parties in great frocks well into your 90s, is a well-lived life.
— melissa cox (@mmdotcox) May 23, 2019
Judith Kerr once told me that her husband made a tiny mouse hospital for all the maimed rodents their cat dragged in.
— Nadia Shireen (@NadiaShireen) May 23, 2019
Heard a great Judith Kerr radio interview a while back where the interviewer suggested that the Tiger who came to Tea was in fact the Nazis coming for the Jewish people.
Kerr paused and then slowly said: "The Tiger… is very much a tiger… who wants some tea."
— Rob Williams (@Robwilliams71) May 23, 2019
Goodbye, Judith Kerr 💔 pic.twitter.com/PrN1QXUdKP
— Vicky Langan (@vicky_langan) May 23, 2019
Sad to hear Judith Kerr has passed away, I loved her books, and look at these delightful photos of her and her cats <3 pic.twitter.com/RSSpOgMte5
— Siobhán (@wigglymittens) May 23, 2019
We're sad to hear that Judith Kerr has died. If you've never read The Tiger Who Came to Tea, read it today. If you've not read it for a while, read it today. If you've not read it today, read it today. 🐯☕️ pic.twitter.com/RF3U5aMbiB
— Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary) May 23, 2019
— Words from Darran (@ShinraAlpha) May 23, 2019
According to The BBC, Ann-Janine Murtagh, Kerr’s publisher at HarperCollins, stated that it had been “the greatest honour and privilege to know and publish Judith Kerr for over a decade,” describing her as a person who “embraced life as one great big adventure and lived every day to the full.”
RIP Judith Kerr, thank you for everything.
Featured Image Via BBC.