Bestselling children’s author Judith Kerr dies, aged 95

Classics include The Tiger Who Came to Tea, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and Mog series

Judith Kerr in 2013: was named Illustrator of the Year at the British Book Awards 2019 last week. Photograph: Eliz Huseyin

Judith Kerr in 2013: was named Illustrator of the Year at the British Book Awards 2019 last week. Photograph: Eliz Huseyin

 

Author Judith Kerr, who enchanted generations of children with simply illustrated tales such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog the Forgetful Cat, has died at the age of 95.

The death of one of the most popular authors of children’s books in the 20th century was announced by her publisher, HarperCollins, which said Kerr had died after a short illness. It did not specify a cause.

“It has been the greatest honour and privilege to know and publish Judith Kerr,” said Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

“She came to visit our offices frequently – always bringing her books in person; often arriving on the No 9 bus and leaving us all full of laughter and in awe of her astonishing zest for life.”

Kerr, who left Germany with her family just before the Nazis came to power, wrote and illustrated 35 books that sold millions of copies around the world, including When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. But none was more celebrated than her first about the havoc caused by a surprise visitor’s enormous appetite.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea tells the story of a little girl and her mother who are having tea at home when a friendly tiger arrives unannounced, eats all the food and then leaves, never to return.

Kerr said in 2015 that when her daughter Tacy was a toddler, the girl would often say “talk the tiger”. Years later, when both of her children were at school and she was wondering what to do next, she hit upon the idea of a book.

It was published in 1968 to critical acclaim and has been a bestseller ever since, with Mog the Forgetful Cat following in 1970, the first of a long series.

Kerr was often asked whether the tiger has a hidden meaning, and some people have suggested it might represent Hitler or the Nazis, invading her home and stealing her possessions. Kerr dismissed this, saying the idea for the tiger simply came from a visit to the zoo with Tacy, and the creature was harmless.

“I never think about telling small children what to think,” she said in 2015.

Refugees

Kerr was born in Berlin and her family left Germany in 1933 to escape the rise of the Nazi Party and came to Britain via Paris.

The family’s struggle to get by as impoverished refugees in Paris and then wartime London formed the subject of Kerr’s autobiographical trilogy that started with When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, published in 1971.

The book has been translated into many languages and taught to school children as an introduction to a dark chapter of history. It won the prestigious Youth Book Prize in Germany, and in 1993 a school was named after Kerr in her native Berlin.

Kerr said that as she got older she thought more often about the Jewish children from her generation who perished in the Holocaust, and of the lives they might have lived. “If you’ve got a life that so many people didn’t have, you can’t waste it,” she said.

As a young woman, Kerr worked as a textile designer, art teacher and script writer at the BBC before taking time out from work to raise her two children with her husband Tom.

She never stopped working. Last week, she was named illustrator of the year at the British Book Awards.

Her most recent title, Mummy Time, was published last year, touching on concerns that parents are too obsessed with technology. The book is about a mum distracted by her phone in the park while her toddler goes on adventures.

Kerr’s latest book, The Curse of the School Rabbit, is due to be published next month. She is survived by her two children and grandchildren. – Reuters

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