As reported by The Guardian, author and illustrator Judith Kerr has died. Kerr was the woman behind beloved children’s book The Tiger Who Came To Tea and the lengthy series of Mog The Forgetful Cat, as well as a series of semi-autobiographical books for older kids about growing up in Germany just as the Nazis were taking over. Kerr was 95.
Born in Berlin in 1923, Judith Kerr and her family left for Switzerland when the Nazi party began to take control of the country out of fear that they would be targeted because of their Jewish heritage and her father Alfred Kerr’s history of speaking out against the Nazis (Alfred Kerr was a noted German theater critic). They moved around Europe and eventually settled in Britian, where Kerr spent the remainder of her life. She worked with the Red Cross during World War II and was able to get a scholarship to an art school, selling some of her art to get by before taking a job as a script writer at the BBC—a move that was encouraged by her husband, Professor Bernard Quartermass creator Nigel Kneale.
Kerr reportedly always wanted to be an author, but she didn’t start writing her books until her own children had started going to school. Her debut book, 1968's The Tiger Who Came To Tea (which she wrote and illustrated), is literally just about what it says in the title, with a woman and her young daugther’s totally average day getting disrupted by a friendly tiger who shows up and eats all of their food. The Guardian points out that analysts have wondered whether the tiger is meant to represent the Gestapo, but Kerr has always denied that, saying it’s just supposed to be a fun story she came up with to entertain her children.
In 1970, Kerr released the first of 17 Mog books, all of which were based on her real-life cat of the same name (and various other cats that came after the real Mog). Kerr said that books were meant to reflect the often frustrating/lovable nature of real cats, and in 2002 she wrote the then-final Mog book, Goodbye Mog, in which the eponymous cat actually died (though she returned in 2015 for a charity tie-in). The Guardian says that Kerr often noted that Mog’s death was inspired by her thoughts of her own mortality and that it was “really about people, not cats.”
Around the creation of Mog, Kerr also wrote When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, a book inspired by her own childhood in Berlin. Hoping to show her own children what it had been really like to live as a refugee, Kerr focused on her loving parents and the strength of her family rather than the horrors of the Nazi party. She wrote two more young adult books based on her life, Bombs On Aunt Dainty (which was about living in London during World War II) and A Small Person Far Away (which takes place in the ‘50s and see’s Kerr’s stand-in returning to Cold War-era Berlin).
Judith Kerr is survived by her daughter and son.