22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Judith Kerr

Portrait Judith Kerr
© Hartwig Klappert

Judith Kerr, the daughter of the theater critic Alfred Kerr, was born in 1923 in Berlin. In 1933 her family fled Germany for Switzerland and then France, where Judith went to school for two years and learned French. In 1936 the family fled France for London, where she attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts and worked for the Red Cross during the war years. After 1945 she became an editor at the BBC. Although as a child she had dreamed of a career as a writer, she only began to illustrate and write children’s books when her children were learning to read.

A visit to the zoo with her three-year-old daughter inspired her to write »The Tiger Who Came to Tea« (1968), which became a bestseller. The tale is about a tiger who is standing at the door of little Sophie’s bedroom. He is hungry and soon has eaten up all the food in her family’s cupboards and drunk all the water in the house’s plumbing. The British children’s book author, Michael Rosen, surmises that the tiger can also be linked to the threats faced by Judith Kerr in her own childhood, as it suddenly invades the life of the protagonist and mercilessly robs the family of all their possessions. 1970 saw the publication of the first volume of her Mog series, which comprises 17 children’s books, illustrated by Judith Kerr, about a cat and his adventures. The death of the main character in the last volume (»Goodbye, Mog«, 2002) is unusual for a children’s book. In 2004 the character became the eponymous hero of a British television series (»Mog the Forgetful Cat«). Her family’s fleeing of Nazi Germany provided the theme for Judith Kerr’s trilogy of children’s books titled »Out of the Hitler Time«. She was motivated by the desire to write a family history about flight and exile accessible for children. From a child’s perspective she tells of the increasing power of the National Socialists in Germany during the 1930s, of the flight of a Jewish family and their life as immigrants over the course of World War II and beyond. The first part of the trilogy, »When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit« (1971) was awarded the 1974 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis and became part of the canon at German schools. In 1978 the WDR adapted it for television, shooting part of it on location. Her latest children’s book, »Mister Cleghorn’s Seal« (2015), is dedicated to Alfred Kerr and makes reference to a stuffed seal that resided in her parents apartment and, according to family legend, was saved as a baby by her father in Normandy.

In acknowledgement of her contributions to children’s literature and to Holocaust education, Judith Kerr received the Order of the British Empire, and Birthday Honours in 2012. She was awarded the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. Her books have been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Barnes, London.