Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In conversation with UK author, Judith Kerr

I was privileged last weekend to meet UK children's author, Judith Kerr, at the Lightbox Museum in Woking. The Lightbox is at present hosting a marvellous exhibition about children's books and their illustrators, from the late 19th century to the present day.

Judith Kerr, as the author and illustrator of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog, the Forgetful Cat is, of course, featured in the exhibition. And running concurrently is a whole series of talks, so that if you're interested you can meet some of the featured illustrators/authors in person.

I jumped at the chance to see Judith Kerr, and to hear her talk about her childhood in Berlin and how her family was forced to flee to Switzerland, because of her father's outspoken criticism of Hitler and the Nazis. Her father fled first to Prague and then to Switzerland, and - about two weeks later - the whole family left Germany. Judith eventually came to England in 1936 via Switzerland and Paris and has stayed here ever since. She has written about these experiences in her autobiographical novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and two further novels. 

After she had talked about her escape from Germany (which happened just in time, because the day after they had reached Switzerland the Nazis won the election and they went to the Kerr's house in Berlin to confiscate the family's passports), and had read a passage from her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, the audience asked a variety of questions about her parents, the escape, her Jewish background and whether there were any plans to resurrect Mog, the Cat - to which Judith responded with a quiet but emphatic 'No!'  It was fascinating listening to this petite, elderly lady with the quiet voice but very clear diction who answered questions with a disarming openness. When one of the children in the audience asked why the grandmother's dog in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit jumped off the wall, she replied that the dog was 'a very stupid dog!' He loved running after tennis balls, for instance, and mistook anything white and round - like a light bulb - for a tennis ball and would be found jumping up and down trying to 'catch' the light bulb!

An hour flew by and at the book signing afterwards, I told her of my mother's own flight from East Prussia to Hamburg at the end of World War II (which I've documented in my poetic memoir Family & More - Enemies or Friends?).  Judith Kerr was fascinated, and when I offered her a copy of my own book, I was honoured that she accepted it. What a gracious lady and what a most interesting afternoon!


  1. I just discovered Judith Kerr's Mog's series. The cat from the books is adorable.


  2. I agree, Vanessa, and so is the tiger in her book The Tiger came to Tea. She is a very talented illustrator (and writer)! I only wish I had her illustrating talent. Getting my own stories illustrated has been harder than writing them, much harder!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment.