Judith Kerr - a Life Well Lived
The life of author and illustrator Judith Kerr, who died on 22 May 2019
by Becky May
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To celebrate the life and achievements of Judith Kerr and to explore how she can continue to inspire us.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Judith Kerr - a Life Well Lived) and the means to display them.
- If possible, have available a selection of books by Judith Kerr, such as the Mog series, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Tiger Who Came to Tea. If these are not available, Slide 1 shows some of the book covers.
- Explain that today’s assembly is going to be about someone whom most of us have never met. However, many of us will have read or seen books written by this author.
- Show a selection of books by Judith Kerr and/or show Slide 1.
Ask the children the following questions.
- Do you recognize any of these book covers?
- Which of these stories do you know?
- Do you have a favourite?
- Which ones would you like to read?
- Pause to allow some time for the children to share their thoughts about some of the books shown, perhaps sharing your own favourite.
If sufficient time is available, read one of the stories to the children.
- Show Slide 2.
Point out that all of these stories were written by this lady. Her name is Judith Kerr. Sadly, she died recently, which is why we are spending some time thinking about her today. She was 95 when she died; she had lived a long, interesting life and she has left these beautiful stories behind, which we can enjoy forever.
- Explain that Judith Kerr not only wrote made-up stories, her own life was a big adventure in itself.
Judith Kerr was born in Berlin in Germany in 1923. Her parents were Jewish and her father had been very critical of Hitler and the Nazis before they took leadership of the country. (You may need to qualify this statement with a greater explanation, as appropriate.)
Judith’s father wrote many books, but when the Nazis came to power, Hitler was angry about the things her father had written and his books were burned in big protests. Judith’s family fled, scared of what might happen to her father. They eventually settled in England, which is where Judith grew up, got married and had two children, a son and a daughter.
One day, when Judith’s daughter was little, she took her to the zoo, where they both greatly admired the tigers and wanted to stroke them. Soon after, Judith made up a story where she imagined what might happen if a tiger came to tea. Her daughter asked her to tell it over and over again.
Later, over the course of a year, Judith wrote the story out and illustrated it. The Tiger Who Came to Tea became her first storybook and is now one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.
Judith wrote many other books for children, including the Mog stories. When her own children were older, she wrote another story called When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to help them understand what it was like for children living in Germany when Hitler came to power.
- Books and stories are wonderful things. Stories like The Tiger Who Came to Tea make us laugh and help us use our imaginations. Books like When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit are more serious and help us think about important issues. Stories are like a big present that we can enjoy, laugh about and use to explore big subjects; they take us to faraway places.
- Ask the children whether they have a favourite book. Ask why this book is their favourite.
Listen to a range of responses.
- Today, we can and should take time to be thankful for Judith Kerr and her wonderful stories that are her gifts to us. We can also be thankful for all the other stories that we have and that we enjoy the freedom to read and share books of every type together. That really is something to celebrate!
Time for reflection
The Bible tells us that Jesus was a storyteller, too. Jesus’ stories helped to teach people about things that were difficult to understand, a bit like the way Judith wrote When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to teach her children what it was like for children in Germany in the years leading up to the Second World War. Sometimes, Jesus’ stories upset the leaders of the day, a bit like Judith’s father’s books upset Hitler. The leaders around Jesus didn’t want to hear his message because it challenged them to change their ways and they didn’t want to do that.
One day, Jesus’ disciples asked him why he taught in parables or stories. Jesus explained that not everyone would understand what he was saying, but that people who did should act on it.
What lessons will we discover from the stories that we hear or read this week? Will we have ears to hear?
Thank you for Judith Kerr, for her gifts of storytelling and creativity.
Thank you that we enjoy the freedom to read and share so many wonderful stories.
Please help us to appreciate this freedom and look to see what we can learn from the stories that we share.
‘Living and learning’ by Mark and Helen Johnson (Out of the Ark Music)