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Judith Kerr remembered as a ‘true creative hero’ following her death aged 95

Judith Kerr with her OBE medal (John Stillwell/PA)
Judith Kerr with her OBE medal (John Stillwell/PA)

Children’s author Cressida Cowell has hailed Judith Kerr as a “true creative hero” following her death aged 95.

Kerr, who wrote and illustrated a number of enduring children’s books including The Tiger Who Came To Tea, died at home on Wednesday following a short illness, her publisher HarperCollins said.

A much-loved and timeless classic, The Tiger Who Came To Tea has sold more than five million copies since it was first published in 1968, and it has never been out of print.

Her other works include When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the Mog The Cat series of books.

Speaking at this year’s Hay Festival, Cowell, author of the How To Train Your Dragon and The Wizards Of Once series, said: “I was deeply sad to hear of the death of Judith Kerr today.

Storystock Festival Battersea
Judith Kerr, author of The Tiger Who Came To Tea (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“She came to this country as a refugee and has given so much back with her joyful creations and gentle humour. She has inspired generation after generation of children to read for pleasure.

“She was working right until the very end – as engaged in her nineties as she was as a younger woman. A true creative hero.”

Emma Carroll, author of Letters From The Lighthouse, also remembered Kerr at the Hay Festival, saying: “Hearing her talk of her life was an absolute inspiration. Today we’ve lost one of the greats.”

Author and TV star David Walliams tweeted that he was sad to hear of her death.

He said: “She was a legendary author and illustrator, whose stories and illustrations gave pleasure to millions around the world, not least me and my son. Judith is gone but her books will live on forever.”

Composer Howard Goodall tweeted: “Adieu, beloved friend & neighbour, bonus grandmum to our girls, gentle, wry, unique Judy.

“Our hearts are heavy, yet you’d be urging us to tell stories, to live, laugh & love, unstintingly, with every breath we are given, as you did for 96 remarkable years. Ruht wohl #JudithKerr.”

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis shared her own memory of Kerr.

She tweeted: “I remember asking #JudithKerr Kerr if the tiger symbolised the 1960s sexual revolution where normal mores and suburban life became upended by this wild and exotic creature. She told me no, it was about a tiger coming to tea.”

Other tributes came in from Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, who tweeted about his sons’ love of her books and author Tony Parsons, who said: “Some books light up the world.”

Publisher Ann-Janine Murtagh, of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said that it had been the “greatest honour and privilege” to have known and worked with Kerr for more than a decade.

British Book Awards 2018 – London
Judith Kerr has died aged 95 (John Stillwell/PA) 

She said that Kerr would frequently visit their offices having travelled on a bus, and that she would leave everyone “full of laughter and in awe of her astonishing zest for life and absolute commitment to delivering the very best books for children”.

Earlier this year, Channel 4 announced it would air a special animated adaptation of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, which tells the story of a tea-guzzling tiger, who turns up unannounced and eats and drinks Sophie and her mother out of house and home.

Talking to the Press Association last year, Kerr told of her inspiration for the book.

She said: “I first told this story to my small daughter long ago. 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 – and much to my amazement, here it still is 50 years later.”

Her other literary success, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, is a semi-autobiographical tale about a young Jewish girl forced to flee Germany in 1933.

Storystock Festival Battersea
With Benedict Cumberbatch during a reading of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the book (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The charismatic author also spoke of her joy at the fact that Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch narrated the story as part of a 50th anniversary celebration at Storystock Festival in south London, held last year, saying that he was a “wonderful man” and that it was “the only time I’ve ever been able to impress my children”.

Born in Berlin in 1923, Kerr came to England with her family after escaping the Nazis.

Her father Alfred was a Jewish theatre critic and satirical writer, who fled to Zurich in 1933, followed soon after by his wife Julia and two children, Michael and Judith.

It was while working at the BBC as a scriptwriter that she met her husband, the late writer Thomas Nigel Kneale, with whom she had two children, Matthew and Tacy.

Kerr was appointed OBE in 2012 for her services to children’s literature and Holocaust education.

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