Review: Hitler, the Tiger and Me – an Imagine special on Judith Kerr

Last week, the BBC arts series Imagine ran a special programme celebrating Judith Kerr’s 90th birthday and today Holly and I watched our recording of it with eager anticipation. It didn’t disappoint! These are our thoughts on the programme.

Judith Kerr with Alan Yentob, courtesy of http://www.radiotimes.com

Holly’s review:

Today me and my mum watched a TV programme all about Judith Kerr. It was all about her life and her books.

I think it was really interesting because I read all the books she wrote about her life. One of them, for example, is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. On the programme it showed the house she used to live in when she was in Berlin and she went into it and looked around.

At one point in the show, they talked about her Mog books, which I think most people reading my blog will have read. And while they were talking about that, they also started saying that she had killed off Mog but they never asked her why she did that. I think they should have asked her because it would have been interesting to know why.

This TV programme was to mark Judith Kerr turning 90 this year.

Sam’s review:

We are huge Judith Kerr fans in this house so when I saw that the BBC was running a special programme about her life to mark her 90th birthday I couldn’t wait to see what they would produce.

The programme was a sensitive record of Kerr’s life to date, though in only a short amount of time they couldn’t really do much beyond scratch the surface. Holly and I were familiar with her life story from reading her trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels/books: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Bombs on Aunt Daisy and A Small Person Far Away but it was fascinating to see how her artistic nature was already manifesting itself at a very young age. Her mother saved some of her drawings and pictures that she drew as presents for family when they had to flee Germany, and these can be seen now at the Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books, which Kerr approached to house her archive. It is my great desire to visit one day to see this amazing collection.

What was fascinating for me to see was just what a spright and amazing lady Judith Kerr is, sprinting up the stairs in her house ahead of Alan Yentob to her studio, walking around her neighbourhood every day for exercise and fresh air. She sets a pace most of us would find brisk! And then there were the little revelations that gave an insight into her playful character, including a penchant for martinis and, of course, cats.

Mog is one of our favourite characters in a picture book series. I remember the day I picked up the final book and cried in WH Smith at the thought of this beloved pet leaving its family for good. I bought a copy for Holly when our first cat died and we were looking for a way to help her come to terms with the loss. I think she did benefit from it – perhaps now at the ripe old age of ten she has forgotten that the story helps children like her deal with grief, since the loss of a family pet is often a child’s first encounter with mortality (a rather different scenario to the violent world in which Kerr was raised).

Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk

Another of Kerr’s most famous books (arguably THE most famous, having never been out of print since it first appeared in 1968) is The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Kerr revealed that this book was the only one that came to her as a text first rather than through pictures, as she used to tell this story to her daughter before she put it down in words and images on paper. People try to read a lot into this book, and on Imagine the approach was generally to link it to her time as a refugee, constantly on the run from the Nazis. The tiger, as Michael Rosen points out, is a threatening character even if it’s jokey, and the fact that it comes into the house to take everything the family owns (in the way of food and drink) presents a situation where the unknown is feared – that one day a stranger could walk into the house and take away everything you have built up over a lifetime. However, Sophie appears enamoured of the tiger and is sad when he leaves, a trail of destruction in his wake. When interviewed, illustrator and writer Lauren Child said she felt that the tiger never coming back left a rather sad ending to the book, even though it was the right way to finish. She was firmly of the belief that the tiger is just that, and why not have a tiger drop in for tea? Why not indeed!

A hungry house guest! Image courtesy of www.illustrationcupboard.com   

A point made by Michael Rosen resonated with me. He said that in a Kafka-esque world, things end in tragedy. In picture books, and in Kerr’s, stories end back at home. Order is restored. Even when Mog has to fly away forever, she has restored happiness to her family by helping her successor adapt and gradually take her place (even though at first she’s rather annoyed by that idea!). After what must have been a traumatic childhood (although Kerr is always quick to dismiss such hyperbole – she says it was more of an adventure at the time to her and her brother), Kerr always restores the familial balance in her books so we get our happy ever after. And we are glad she has got hers too, as one of the nation’s most beloved authors and illustrators.

Holly would like to know what questions would you ask Judith Kerr if you could? Please share!

Further links:

We can’t wait to read this:  Judith Kerr’s Creatures: A Celebration of Her Life And Work

 

 

There is a BBC article dedicated to the themes covered in the Imagine programme, which could be useful if you can’t access the BBC iPlayer to see the actual episode: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25027090.

 

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. nobodyjones says:

    Hi Holly! I think I’d ask Judith Kerr if she had a favourite of all of the amazing books she has done.

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  2. Thank you! That is a great question! Holly

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  3. Zoe says:

    I was most moved by the picture towards the end that looked like it could have been drawn by Kerr, but was scribbled out, and then revealed to have been drawn by a child who did not survive the Holocaust.

    I’d ask Judith what paper and pencils she uses – there were lots of lovely shots of her workspace.

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    1. Hi Zoe
      That was perhaps one of the most poignant parts of the documentary especially because the drawing was so similar to Kerr’s. It was suggestive of the talent that was lost during that awful time and how we might have been robbed of Kerr’s ability had she not escaped.

      I like your question. It would have been wonderful to have watched her sketch too.
      Sam

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