In anticipation of Kate Pankhurst bringing her book Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World to Seven Stories this month, we are delving into our archive to share the stories of great women who achieved remarkable things. Today, we take a look at the wonderful Judith Kerr.

Judith Kerr’s extraordinary life began in 1923 when she was born in Berlin, Germany. At nine years old, her family fled Berlin the day before her father, Alfred Kerr, was due to be arrested for his open criticism for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Alfred was a famous drama critic, poet and broadcaster of Jewish origin, so the family were in danger as the Nazis gained power.

Judith’s family travelled from Germany, through Switzerland and into France before finally settling in England, where she became a British Citizen. The journey of the Kerr family is told in Judith’s semi-autobiographical Out of the Hitler Time trilogy through the eyes of Judith’s nine-year-old alter ego, Anna.

With a natural eye for capturing stories in pictures, Judith began drawing at a young age. Fortunately, while the family travelled through Europe, Judith’s early illustrations were carefully preserved by her mother, who also encouraged Judith to create illustrated stories as family gifts as she had no money to buy presents. These stories also show off her impressive language skills, having written in German, French and English.

Having left school to train as a shorthand typist, Judith went on to work for the Red Cross during World War II, helping to organise jumpers and bandages for the armed forces before securing a scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. She then worked as an artist and teacher, before joining the BBC as a television scriptwriter and editor. It was at the BBC that she met her husband, Nigel Kneale, writer of the famous Quatermass series.

Judith’s career took a new turn following the birth of her two children, as she discovered a talent for writing and illustrating picture books. Her first book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, was published in 1968 and has become one of the most popular picture books of all time, remaining in print ever since it was first published.

Judith deposited her extensive archive with Seven Stories in 2008. The archive includes finished art

work for 24 of her published titles for children including The Tiger Who Came to Tea, all of the books in the Mog series, and the line drawings for the first of her three novels, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

The collection also contains compositions, illustrated letters and drawings created by Judith during her childhood in Berlin, Paris and London; life drawings and textile designs from her time at Art College; unpublished artwork for two picture books; and a small quantity of sketches and preparatory material relating to her published titles.

In 2012 Judith was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Birthday Honours for services to children's literature and Holocaust education. The release of Mister Cleghorn’s Seal in 2015 represents almost half a decade of stories beloved by families all over the country – making Judith Kerr a Fantastically Great Woman.


Kate Pankhurst and Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World come to Seven Stories on Saturday 26th November at 2pm.

£3 per person, admission required. Suitable for ages 5-8. Supported by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Book tickets here.