I am so, so sad to hear about the death of Judith Kerr. I last saw her only a month or two ago, at an Oldie Literary Lunch, where she was in fine form and did not stint herself on a glass or two of wine. She seems to have been constitutionally a merry person, and a modest one.
Among the greatest privileges of doing our books podcast was meeting Judith at her house in Barnes, where we recorded our interview with her and her son Matthew Kneale. What made it really special was that – thanks to one of my routine childcare emergencies – I had my then four-year-old son Jonah in tow. I have a photograph, therefore – which I hope will be a lifelong treasure for him – of Jonah, aged four, sitting with Judith, aged 94. She signed his book, introduced him to Katinka the cat, and plied him with Cadbury’s Celebrations.
And what a body of work! Though she told me she didn’t even really think of herself as a writer, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an acknowledged classic of Holocaust literature. And Mog! I could recite the adventures of this absent-minded, egg-loving, Christmas-tree-fearing, stereotypical-burglar-apprehending cat by heart having read them so many times – first as a son and then as a father.
Plus, of course, and immortally, The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Semioticians will be seeking to interpret that book (Emily Maitlis once told me she thought it was about sex; others have thought Nazis; Judith insists it’s about a greedy tiger) for as long as ink and paper endure. I can’t be the only one who is haunted by the mysterious hunched figure in the street scene at the end.
So it’s sad Judith is gone. She has gone out in the dark and, I would like to think, all the street lamps are lit and all the cars have their lights on. It was a life well lived and abundantly blessed. Hitler didn’t get her, she died with all her marbles – and she died having given immeasurable pleasure through her drawings and writing to countless children, many of them grown-up. RIP.