I’m writing this through tears. Judith Kerr, one of the great legends of children’s books has passed away, and I want to tell you about her.
Born in 1923, Kerr grew up in Berlin until her family was forced to escape the rise of Nazism. She wrote about this journey in a remarkable trilogy of books: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Bombs on Aunt Dainty, and A Small Person Far Away. I describe these as remarkable, because they are. Kerr wrote with a simply endless truth. There’s one moment in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit where she mentions an instance of Nazi torture, and it’s presented so starkly – so simply – that you get it. You get the horror of this regime, the fear of it, and she does all of that in literally a couple of sentences. It’s good writing yes, but it’s also incredibly brave. She’s sharing her story with others in the hope that it might never happen again.
Judith Kerr also wrote picture books. She’s perhaps best known for The Tiger Who Came To Tea; a book full of depth and wild, wild wonder, and her adorable Mog books. These were the adventures of Mog, a lovable and somewhat accident-prone cat, and Goodbye Mog – the book where Mog died – remains an utter classic. You will cry. I suspect you will also cry at My Henry, a slender and potent book that explores life after bereavement. It’s beautiful. It’s heart-breaking.
She had this eye for the domestic adventure; she could find magic in the kitchen if she had to, but her books never became conscious. I always think of her books as quiet classics; changing the world with every word, but never boasting about it.
Kerr was just good. So, so good. And we were so lucky to have had her.
You can find out more about Judith Kerr’s work by visiting the archive at Seven Stories in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. It’s worth a visit if you can as there is something amazing in seeing the original papers, but if you can’t make it in person, there’s an online exhibition here.
If you don’t know about her books, then now’s the time to start. It’s never too late to read them. You’ll be glad you did.