Richmond town centre on a rugby match day is best avoided. The pavements are awash with supporters who spill out of the pubs and restaurants long before kick-off. On Saturday my daughter and I were amongst them as we jostled our way to the Orange Tree Theatre for an audience with Judith Kerr, writer and illustrator. A childhood spent in Ireland, I wasn’t reared on her stories and only became familiar with her work through visits to the library with my children. What English child hasn’t read or been read The tiger who came to tea? She’s just penned The Great Granny Gang about a bunch of really resourceful courageous grannies.
Judith is already in situ when we enter the auditorium looking like she’s just stepped off a Disney set. There’s her beautiful glossy white hair, spectacles (of course) and a striking outfit -a black shirt and 3/4 sleeved top with white blouse underneath so the long cuffs and air-plane collar peek out. Even her pendant brooch is as Disney would have wanted it. She tells us she started to write books at age 45 and that was half a lifetime ago. Before reading from The Great Granny Gang she speaks to us about her early years in Germany when her father the drama critic, journalist and screenwriter, Alfred Kerr, topped Hitler’s death wish list. Because of his open criticism of the Nazi, he and his family fled to Switzerland in 1933 settling later in England.
She’s written a series of three novels about this time in her life. When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit is the first of the trilogy and tells the story of Anna and her Jewish family fleeing from Germany before the outbreak of the second world war.
Judith was happy to take questions from the floor and both adults and children had lots to ask her. I fed Amber one and so she quizzed Judith on advice she has for children wanting to write. “Just do it” she said. And remember to write about what you know. Later, when we lined up to have a picture with Judith, I asked her if she kept a diary. I’d hoped she’d say yes. It might have sent Amber running to the tower of stacked notepads and diaries I’ve bought for her in this last year alone. But she said “No I didn’t need to – I can still remember all that happened” and she said it as someone who sees it as her duty to never forget.