Category Archives: Judith Kerr

Mog the Forgetful Cat

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I think the Judith-Kerr-reading-world can be split into those who love Mog and those who love The Tiger Who Came to Tea. My sister always dreamed of tea parties with a tiger whereas I am firmly in the Mog camp. The books are so cleverly written with such humour and Mog is the perfect unintentional heroine.

For those who don’t know, Mog is a cat owned by the Thomas family. She has modest aims in life (to eat eggs, to chase birds) yet through a series of coincidences she somehow ends up saving the family from calamity (often calamities of her own making) and being labelled a hero.

There is a touching domesticity to the Mog books with glimpses of the reality of family life (the peas meant for dinner spilt on the floor, the crumpled window-box flowers.) Kerr based the Thomas’s on her own family. Thomas is her husband’s first name, the children are called Debbie and Nicky – Kerr’s own children’s middle names, and the house is based on Kerr’s family home in London.

Despite her obvious foibles Mog is a character with whom children can empathise. When she is feeling persecuted she runs out of the house and into the garden where she ‘sat in the dark and thought dark thoughts.’ What a perfectly concise way to capture that sense of wanting to run away and hide when emotions become too much.

The book is written with such a clever use of dramatic irony. Kerr’s turn of phrase transforms Mog’s forgetfulness into being truly hilarious. And it contains one of the best scenes in children’s literature. At the end of the story (*spoiler*) the burglar is seen being arrested by the policeman, but not before he’s finished having a cup of tea with the family. Redemption for all.

Heroine rating: 3/5

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The Tiger Who Came To Tea

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TTWCTT has not one but two central female characters: Sophie and her mother. It even almost passes the Bechtel test as it opens with them having a conversation together at the table (unfortunately all the visitors Mummy suggests are male but still, pretty close.)

If you haven’t read it you really should. It is lots of people’s favourite picture book and it is easy to see why. It is such an absurd premise with such vibrant pictures. (I personally am a bit more of a fan of Mog – review to come in the future.)

It may lose a couple of feminist points on the very heteronormative family. Sophie’s mummy is a housewife and her daddy goes out to work. It is also daddy who comes home and solves the problem of what to eat for dinner. However, you could also read the book in a way which reflects the spirit of second wave feminism (it was published in 1968.) The tiger could be an imagined excuse that Mummy tells Daddy to explain why she hasn’t conformed to her role and gone shopping and prepared dinner… but that may be a bit of a stretch.

Michael Rosen suggests that the Tiger might represent of a much darker threat. Judith Kerr grew up in 1930s Germany. Her father was a Jewish intellectual and on a Nazi death list and they managed to escape to Prague in 1933, something that she later wrote about in the semi-autobiographical (and excellent) When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. So she knows a thing or two about dangerous people coming into your house and ruining the happy home.

Heroine rating: 3/5