Judith Kerr was born in Berlin, but left Germany with her family in 1933 to escape the Nazis. They arrived in England in 1936, having spent the intervening years in Switzerland and France.
She met her husband the celebrated screenwriter Nigel Kneale, by chance, while having lunch at the BBC canteen, where she later worked as a scriptwriter. They married in 1954 and had two children together; Tacy and Matthew.
It was to Tacy that Judith first used to tell the story of a Tiger coming to tea.
“She was rather critical of my other stories but used to say, ‘Talk the tiger!’ So, when she and her brother were both at school and I had more time, I thought I would make it into a picture book.”
That picture book was The Tiger Who Came to Tea. A success from its first publication in 1968, it was called “a dazzling first book” by Antonia Fraser in one of its first reviews, and has been beloved by both critics and children ever since. It has sold more than ten million copies, and is still a bestseller after fifty years.
Judith continued to write and illustrate many more bestsellers since that day – from her second book, introducing the world to the iconic Mog the Forgetful Cat, to her semi-autobiographical Out of the Hitler Time trilogy, telling the story of her family’s flight from Nazi Germany and subsequent lives as refugees in Europe, before their settlement in England.
Judith’s success continued with each book; in December 2015 Mog’s Christmas Calamity was published in association with Sainsbury’s and was the subject of their Christmas advertising campaign, raising over 1 million pounds for Save the Children’s literacy appeal. It reached No. 1 in the overall book charts and was the bestselling picture book of 2015, with Judith the oldest ever author to hold that No. 1 spot.
Judith was awarded an OBE in 2012 for services to children’s literature and holocaust education, and was also awarded the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. She celebrated both her 95th birthday and the 50th anniversary of The Tiger Who Came to Tea in 2018, and in 2019 was named Illustrator of the Year at the British Book Awards.
In May 2019, Judith died after a short illness. Judith’s final completed work, The Curse of The School Rabbit, will be published in June 2019, and her stories continue to entertain and delight generations of children.
Author photograph © Eliz Hüseyin Photography 2013