Judith Kerr – children’s author and refugee

In a rare need-a-short-time-filler moment this week I picked up a book I was given ages ago and began reading it.

I was surprised to find it written by Judith Kerr – who I know well from her Mog books and The Tiger Who Came To Tea – and also to realise that the woman I’d assumed was quintessentially English was actually German, arriving in the U.K. in 1936 as a child refugee escaping the Nazis.

I used to be a specialist teacher, supporting primary-aged children to learn English at the same time as they were learning curriculum concepts. I therefore recognised and was fascinated by Kerr’s experiences as a German-speaking child trying to cope in a school where she couldn’t understand the teachers or her classmates. It was really interesting to view the pedagogy of language-learning from the perspective of the learner.

Also, as a writer, I was interested to work out how she’d told her story – with some very upsetting and difficult events in it – in a truthful way that a child would understand. Very cleverly done indeed.

But mostly I was fascinated by the story of Kerr as a refugee. It’s a gripping tale, with the family escaping certain death by the skin of their teeth (her father was a Jewish journalist, on Hitler’s most wanted list).

One child saved, and that one child went on to write books which have had a huge impact on me* as well as many others the world over. Just one child. And that’s ignoring the contributions of her older brother, who was also saved, too.  Refugees are viewed so negatively and people rarely consider the positive impact they make, whether that’s through picking the food that’s on your plate or writing the story that’s kept you entertained  for a while this week. It’s good to be reminded once in a while.

Then as I finished reading the book this morning I realised that it’s actually Refugee Week, with today being World Refugee Day.

And sharing Judith Kerr’s story seemed like a fitting way to mark it.


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