News and views
A forgetful cat. A pink rabbit. A teadrinking tiger. All engaged the quirky, wonderful mind of Judith Kerr, who, as a child, fl ed Nazi Germany with her family – and was forced to abandon her beloved stuffed rabbit in the process – landing as a refugee in London in 1936. A painter, teacher, illustrator, textile designer and mother of two, Kerr’s books grew directly from stories she told her kids: The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a favourite bedtime story, coming to publishing fruition in 1968; tales of her family’s escape from Germany evolved into the heartfelt yet straight-talking When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit in 1971; and the Mog books were a collaboration of Kerr’s, her husband’s and their children based on their pet.
Now, Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books, which acquired the Kerr archive last year, has mounted a terrifi c retrospective of her work. ‘It’s a celebration of Kerr’s work, as well as a celebration of her donation,’ says collections director Sarah Lawrance. ‘It’s the most signifi cant body of work by an illustrator that we’ve got.’
The collection – thanks to Kerr’s mother who saved her daughter’s early work through their travels – boasts Kerr’s artwork from the tender age of nine, delightful forays that take in kids frolicking at the seashore and playing in
and out of school, as well as the colourful markets of France. Even an old man with a
beer glass and a pipe didn’t escape Kerr’s youthful scrutiny. Access to such a time-spanning archive offers a unique opportunity: ‘The archive includes all this material from when she was a child, so it takes you through the whole of her development as an illustrator,’ says Lawrance. ‘It shows that the books didn’t just come out of nowhere. For children to see drawings that have been done by a child, who has then become a professional illustrator, is really inspiring.’
It clearly is. The exhibit includes a fi lm, When Judith Found Pink Rabbit, starring a group of 10-and-11-year-old schoolkids – some refugees themselves – who read and discussed Kerr’s books, wrote to Kerr (one letter reads: ‘I like all your books. My favourite book is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I like it because it is about interesting things.’) and got to meet the author – ‘What happened when Hitler came to power?’ ‘In The Tiger Who Came to Tea, are you Rabbit, rabbit
the mam?’ – and swap pet stories.
The exhibit, too, offers a chance for questions. A provocative, evocative house of fun-and-information, it includes a schoolroom, bedroom and kitchen (watch out for the tiger!), creating a world both make-believe and utterly real. In one room, a suitcase invites you to see how much you could pack if forced to fl ee; in another, a wheel allows you to match Mog’s expressions to his likes and dislikes. (Hint: the happy face goes with the egg). There’s also a workplace with topics such as Creating Characters (‘Learning to draw is really about learning to look,’ according to Kerr); Planning a Story; At the Drawing Board; and a fi lm of Kerr discussing her work process.
‘One of the rationales of us collecting material and making it accessible, is so that it can spark imaginative journeys and encourage children to read with more confi dence and interest,’ explains Lawrance. ‘It’s been a great opportunity to use a story – Pink Rabbit – that was really meaningful for the children. A lot of them were touched at quite a deep level.’ They certainly were: Kerr, who describes the show as ‘marvellous…very moving,’ and who had to leave her stuffed bunny behind all those years ago, received a pink rabbit as a thank-you gift from the children.
Q&A: Katie Allen
The crafty journalist cut her teeth at Knitting magazine before moving on as The Bookseller‘s media reporter. Now Katie has given up her evenings and launched a topical women’s website (www.fat-quarter.co.uk). We caught her a few months into the venture. Why did you create Fat Quarter? I wanted to stop whinging to my friends about how rubbish women’s magazines were. Magazines I loved when I was younger – Just 17 and The Face – catered to girls in a very different way: they promoted having hobbies and interests. Bust is probably my favourite magazine now: it’s a glossy women’s magazine but it has a very subtle feminist agenda. Women’s magazines are something I’m really passionate about, as well as championing women’s writing. To me nothing beats a magazine with lots of lovely pictures and really interesting stories. I enjoyed the profi le of the poshyet-hardcore environmentalist. What else should visitors to the site expect? I want the site to be as varied as possible, with articles of interest to women, on women doing interesting things and not necessarily being celebrated for the way they look. I’d just like people to be entertained – maybe read about things they’ve never heard of. I’ve just interviewed a boy-lesque dancer – a boy who does burlesque dancing. How are you generating content? Writing stuff myself, asking friends to contribute. I want people to come to me with ideas, contributors who can write with authority – even if they haven’t been published before. It’s important for articles to be interesting, well-written and properly researched. This all sounds fun, but a lot of work – are there any downsides? Bankrupting myself. VL
The number of feet the world’s fi rst knitted poem is expected to stretch to, created from multi-coloured letters crafted by hundreds of people from New Zealand to UK’s Newcastle. The Poetry Society unveils the knotty verse just in time for National Poetry Day.
‘[People] say, “Shazia, you should be warm, friendly and unthreatening.” This is intellectual language for pink, fluffy bimbo.’
Non-pink, non-fl uffy, non-bimbo comedian, writer and wit-rich maverick Shazia Mirza in her Guardian column, 8 August, 2009.
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:I R Z A
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