The Irish Times view on Judith Kerr: the duty to live well
The evil of Nazism cast a long shadow and influenced the children’s author’s beloved work
The children’s author and illustrator Judith Kerr, who died this week aged 95, was best-known as the creator of the classic picture book The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the Mog series and the semi-autobiographical young adult novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Photograph: Eliz Huseyin/PA Wire
Book lovers often have a favourite book or author but there is a special place in readers’ hearts, if they happen to be a parent too, for the bedtime story their child first fell in love with, and fell asleep to.
This goes some way to explain the outpouring of affection, indeed love, for children’s author and illustrator Judith Kerr on her death this week, aged 95.
She was best-known as the creator of the classic picture book The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the Mog series and the semi-autobiographical young adult novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, written so that her children would know that the threat she had faced as a child was darker than that depicted by The Sound of Music.
The evil of Nazism cast a long shadow and influenced her work in surprising ways. She was born in Berlin in 1923 to Jewish parents. Her father was a theatre critic but a Hitler critic too, so they had to flee, first to Paris, then London.
As refugees, Kerr’s family were constantly on the move so it was not until 1962 that she put down roots in London and got her cat, Mog, the first of nine feline muses, inspirations for a 17-book series.
Though created in 1968, the bright colours of The Tiger Who Came to Tea reflected not just the spirit of the Swinging Sixties but were a reaction to the monochrome, battleship grey of the war years.
She did not suffer from survivor’s guilt but had a sense of duty to live well, saying in 2004: “I think 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”.
Kerr laid Mog to rest in 2002. “I wanted to say that we don’t totally lose people when they die; I still talk to my father, to my husband, nearly every day.” Kerr is not lost to us either, thanks to the literary legacy she leaves behind to be cherished by generations to come.