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Judith Kerr (1923-2019)

Author/illustrator Judith Kerr has passed away at the age of ninety-five. Kerr’s first book was the picture-book classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea. She is also the creator of a long-running series about Mog, the Forgetful Cat; and more recently Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, The Crocodile Under the Bed, One Night in the Zoo, and others.

Kerr, whose German Jewish family fled the Nazis in the 1930s, is well-known as the author of the semiautobiographical When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (a Horn Book Fanfare title in 1972), and its sequels The Other Way Round (also a Fanfare selection in 1975; later renamed Bombs on Aunt Dainty) and A Small Person Far Away. Read Horn Book reviews of these titles, known as the Out of the Hitler Time series, below:

Kerr, Judith  When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
192 pp.   Coward    $4.95

A title yoking together such seemingly incompatible elements is guaranteed to provoke curiosity, particularly among those who find it disturbing to realize that for many youngsters World War II has now been institutionalized into the farcical-fantasy television comedy, the square-jawed rhetoric of movie reruns, or a conglomeration of facts in the social studies text. Yet, the very incongruity of the title symbolizes the childlike tendency to measure history’s impact in terms of personal discomfort. Thus, the story of one Jewish family’s experiences as refugees in Switzerland, France, and England owes much of its credibility to the homely details of daily existence — which are the stuff of social, if not political, history. When, for example, the children, Max and Anna, learn — after their narrow escape from Germany on the eve of the 1933 election — that the Nazis have confiscated their Berlin home, the ensuing conversation suggests awareness without full comprehension. “‘I always knew we should have brought the games compendium,’ said Max. ‘Hitler’s probably playing Snakes and Ladders with it this very minute.’ ‘And snuggling my Pink Rabbit,’ said Anna.” In contrast to the starkness of Richter’s Friedrich (Holt), which might be considered as a contemporary model for the political information novel, this book is an exploration of family solidarity in a time of personal crisis. An engrossing and sensitive narrative, which undoubtedly owes much of its verisimilitude to the author’s recollection of her own childhood experiences. MARY M. BURNS

From the August 1972 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Kerr, Judith  The Other Way Round
256 pp.    Coward    $7.95

The gray and uncertain life of refugees is powerfully evoked in this sequel to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. In 1940, Mama and Papa, Anna and Max are living in England. Max has a scholarship to Cambridge, but his parents barely manage to survive in a shabby hotel, and Anna is forced to be the guest of a charitable family. Papa, a distinguished German writer, is unable to find work in England, and Mama’s menial job pays very little. We see life through Anna’s eyes; at fifteen she is trained to be a secretary and goes to work. Max in interned as an enemy alien but is finally allowed to join the R.A.F. Despite the terror of the bombing of London, there are still small pleasures. The portrayal of character is particularly clear. Mama is loud, emotional, illogical, and frequently despairing. Papa is quiet, sympathetic, and surprisingly dependent on Mama. Their bitterness is tempered by gratitude and a touching faith in the English people, but at the end of the book it is apparent that they will never be completely at home in England. The situation is far different for Anna, with her growing sureness of her artistic talent, and for Max, completely and happily assimilated into English life. The author has transformed her experiences as a refugee into a fine, sensitive novel. ANN A. FLOWERS

From the October 1975 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Kerr, Judith  A Small Person Far Away
196 pp.    Coward    $7.95

Discovering that parental vulnerability is a threat to one’s security and identity is the unifying theme of the third story about Anna, the central figure of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Other Way Round. As an adult recently married, she returns to a divided Berlin still recovering from the defeat of the Third Reich — where her mother is now living. The visit, occasioned by her mother’s attempted suicide, coincides with two international crises — the Russian invasion of Hungary, and the conflict over the control of the Suez Canal. Finding parallels between these problems and the inexorable march of events which had so profoundly affected her childhood, Anna vacillates between concern for her mother and fears for her own safety. She is unsettled by the rediscovery of the child she once was and by the loss of the “unshakable conviction that there was no problem in the world that Mama could not easily solve.” Having attempted to integrate the two Annas, she returns to England, suddenly realizing that her queasiness en route is the initial discomfort of pregnancy — and wonders how effectively she in turn will respond to the needs of another “small person.” Introspective rather than suspenseful, written from the viewpoint of an adult recalling childhood as a means of achieving self-understanding, the novel will appeal primarily to those who want to continue Anna’s story. MARY M. BURNS

From the June 1979 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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