Absolutely reinforces this idea: The best children’s writing is also enlightening for adults
I had never heard of Judith Kerr, and once steered in her direction I have been steeping myself in her books
Judith Kerr is a writer and artist, who created classic books for young children, most notably The Tiger Who Came To Tea (illustration below) and the Mog books.
However, Kerr also wrote some books for older children, young adults (and, I would maintain – not –so-young-adults) based around her experiences as a child in Germany in the early 1930s, daughter of a prominent, vocal anti-Nazi during the time the Nazis were beginning to gather power and mass support.
These experiences gave rise to 3 fictional books but books nevertheless drawing hugely on her own history, with the central character, Anna, aged 9 in this book, on the verge of leaving Germany just as the National Socialists are about to come to power. This book focuses on life in Germany through the eyes of the 9 year old, and on her refugee status as her family, with increasing desperation, work their way through Switzerland France and finally England in an attempt to find safety, a home, and employment.
This book ends as ‘Anna’ (and of course Judith) arrive in this country in 1936. Further immersed, admiring reviews will follow!
As for ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ what can I say further than that Kerr’s ability to make real that terrible time, and the child who was growing up at that terrible time, catapulted me immediately into reading from within Anna’s experiences – though of course, fortunately, I did not personally live through those times or those places – there is a universal distillation of truthful experience that a good writer draws on, so that the authenticity of the emotion is evoked, even if the experience giving rise to the emotion differs. So…………the heartbreak of being moved away from childhood friends – which happens to a lot of children, as parents relocate, for work related or other reasons, was absolutely reawakened for me, in Anna’s experiences. As was the sudden intense pain of abandonment, and abandoning around the left behind toy, as Anna was told she only had room to pick one of her toys when the family fled Germany.
Adults often seem to forget the absolute intensity of feeling children are capable of. Perhaps this is because as adults we begin to learn strategies to avoid coming face to face with our pain, to anaesthetise ourselves to suffering. Adults have often built walls around experiencing painful emotions – and having, by various means, stifled that sensitivity, forget the younger, more intensely feeling person they were. Authors like Kerr, who can still tap into what childhood really felt like, are gold, not just for the children who have a sense of truthfulness of experience, as they read, but also for adults taken into re-membering.
I have read a good few books about wartime experiences, but ‘the child’s experience’ which Kerr recounts precipitated me into something more visceral, less intellectual.
As the children’s writer Michael Morpurgo, who wrote the foreword to the Kindle edition of ‘Pink Rabbit’ points out – the experience of displacement, of being a refugee, of being made an outsider and an untouchable is not, sadly, a historical one which ended in 1945. It goes on, and Kerr’s beautifully written book is pertinent for today’s children and today’s adults.
Lest this all sounds too dreadfully gloomy for words – she writes authentically, so even in the midst of misery is escape, is fun, is friendship, warmth, games. Suffice it to say that despite a reading experience which caught me with painful emotions, it was also one where I often giggled chuckled and spluttered with laughter.
The good writer makes the individuals so intensely real and themselves that they can then become archetypes – the lesser writer creates an archetype rather than an individual, and the result is a failure to touch either individual or collective truth, Kerr, absolutely, IS that finest writer who succeeds.
The cherry on the cake are the beautiful drawings at the start of each chapter – Kerr illustrated her own books, and they are delightful illustrations, clear, charming, with a directness.
On to the next book, which recounts Anna’s life in England shortly before the war, and during the Blitz. Being of German origin was certainly not easy for German English residents once war was declared – even if you had, as her family had, a history of opposition to the Nazis dating from when all around were refusing to take National Socialism seriously.