The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is following the tiger, the cat and the pink rabbit by showing a retrospective of the work of Judith Kerr. The children’s author’s most popular books include ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’ and the series about Mog, the ‘Forgetful Cat’.
‘The Tiger who came to Tea’ was first published in 1968 and has since become a children’s classic. In an interview with the BBC on the 40th anniversary of the book, Kerr explained what motivated her to write the book:
I’ve spent a lot of time telling my children bedtime stories and there was one that my daughter liked very much. She always asked for it and in the process, she edited it… All the bits that bored her were cut out and all the bits she liked stayed in; and then much later, when they were both at school, I thought, well, what shall I do now and I thought, I’ll make this into a picture book.
She also pointed out that at that time:
a lot of the picture books for children were written in words the young children couldn’t understand. It drove me mad because I was trying to cook my husband’s supper at the same time. Well, I thought, the mums can read this book exactly as it is written and they can think about the potatoes boiling at the same time.
The exhibition will show original artwork, notes and sketches from ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’ together with a selection of early drawings, which will be on public display for the first time. Sarah Lawrance from the Seven Stories children’s book gallery and archive in Newcastle is the curator of the exhibition; she gives an insight into how this retrospective came into being:
After her husband’s death in 2006, Judith started to think about the future and her estate. Her publicist recommended Seven Stories as there isn’t really anywhere else in this country that collects that kind of material.
The exhibition was first launched at Seven Stories in 2009 and was shown in Scarborough the year after.
As well as the early drawings that Judith’s mother had kept over the years, the exhibition will cover Kerr’s eventful childhood. She left Nazi Germany with her family in 1933, when she was 9 years old. As refugees the family first moved to Switzerland and then to France before settling in England in 1936. Her experiences of that time are captured in the semi-autobiographical book ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, which Kerr wrote in 1973. The exhibiton shows images that were created during that period.
The exhibition addresses adults and children alike. Lawrance warmly describes another attraction of the exhibition:
There’s a great set piece, a reconstruction of the kitchen of ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’, so it is as if you literally walk into the picture book.
Aside from the exhibition, another take on ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’ can be seen at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. David Wood adapted Kerr’s picture book for the stage and wrote songs for it. The show opens on Wednesday 6th of July and runs until September the 4th.
Judith Kerr still actively writes; she is currently promoting her book ‘My Henry’ which is about her late husband. The exhibition dedicated to her work runs at Museum of Childhood from Saturday 28th of May to Saturday 4th September 2011.