It never ceases to amaze me how stories find me. Last night I was embarking on clearing up the spare room of our house which had inadvertently turned into a dumping ground. I needed some background noise to help complete this colossal task so I switched on some talk-back radio for a change of pace and was thrilled by what I had found.
ABC Radio was broadcasting the BBC Radio 4 Bookclub program in which an audience has the opportunity to speak directly with an author. Much to my delight, today’s author was the fascinating Judith Kerr. Judith was responsible for one of the most famous – and one of my personal favourites – children’s books of all time, The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
Instead of a conversation about children’s literature, which is what I was fully expecting, the content of the interview took an intriguing turn. Born in Germany, Judith Kerr was the daughter of a prominent theater critic and essayist, Alfred Kerr. Through his participation of drama and literary criticism, his open hostility towards the Nazi regime forced his family to flee Germany in 1933. After several years in exile in Europe, her family finally settleddown in London.
Although her most successful book-to-date is still The Tiger Who Came To Tea, it was another one of Judith Kerr’s books which was the focal point for today’s discussion, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I felt ashamed that I had never heard of this book but I can assure you after listening to the humble and reflective words of Judith Kerr, I will be buying it. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is Ms. Kerr’s accounts of growing up in Berlin at the beginning of the Nazi occupation. Her narration in this book, as described in the BBC interview, is written from the eyes of innocence, in-experience and the ignorant bliss of an 8-year-old child.
Judith mentioned in the interview that the book was written from her own personal observations as a somewhat oblivious child. However, as the years have passed her appreciation of the magnitude of what she survived has caused for much reflection. She spoke how she often wonders how she would have dealt with raising and protecting her children in that environment. In addition, an admiration for her parents for how well they protected her and her brother from the atrocities surrounding them, still continues to grow to this very day.
What we can learn from Judith Kerr: Ms Kerr stated that firstly and foremost, she is an illustrator and she purely wrote stories in order to create a space to draw. Her affair with writing has had it’s high and lows and her change in direction from children’s books to young adult novels such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, came from an interest from her own grown-up children about her past.
Whether it be the fact that my Grandmother is German or the nostalgic affection I hold for reading The Tiger Who Came To Tea to my own children, Judith Kerr has most definitely led a life of intent. She commented that she is fully aware she is a living a life that millions of her countrymen did not get the chance to live and respects that. The discussion in this BBC Radio 4 Bookclub sitting also instigated a curiosity of wanting to know more about her father who’s literature was part of the infamous book burning in 1933.
There is a saying that you should never meet your idol as you will be disappointed. After having ‘met’ 92-year old Judith Kerr last night in the chaos of tidying up my spare room, I can safely say I was far from disappointed. In fact, it was an honor to be in the same room as her wonderful life and story-telling, even if we were half way across the world from each other.
Make your words count. KM.