Significant people: going for tea with Judith Kerr

Learning objectives

  1. Discover why Judith Kerr is significant.
  1. Use portrait elements including expression, pose and background to reveal useful information about Judith Kerr.
  1. Research the work of authors and illustrators, from the past and present.
  • View larger image
    Judith Kerr with her cat Katinka,    by Sam Pelly,    March 2011,    NPG x135287,    © Sam Pelly / National Portrait Gallery, London
Judith Kerr with her cat Katinka
by Sam Pelly
chromogenic print, March 2011
13 7/8 in. x 11 1/8 in. (353 mm x 282 mm) image size
NPG x135287
© Sam Pelly / National Portrait Gallery, London

This is a portrait of Judith Kerr. She was an author and illustrator who is famous for writing children’s books. You might have read some of them, like The Tiger Who Came to Tea or Mog the Forgetful Cat.

She made up these stories to tell her own children when they were young. As they grew older, Judith wrote the stories down and created illustrations to go with them so they could be turned into books for other children to enjoy.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea was her first book. It was published in 1968, over 50 years ago, which means your parents and even your grandparents might have read it when they were young too.

Look closer

Look very closely at the portrait for a whole minute (you might want to use a timer).

Now shut your eyes or hide the portrait. What can you remember?

Look at the portrait again – did you remember everything?

  • View larger image
    Judith Kerr with her cat Katinka,    by Sam Pelly,    March 2011,    NPG x135287,    © Sam Pelly / National Portrait Gallery, London
Judith Kerr with her cat Katinka, by Sam Pelly, March 2011

There are lots of clues about Judith’s famous stories in the portrait:

    • A table which is set ready to have a cup of tea and some biscuits.
    • The teapot has a tiger on it.
    • Do you think a tiger is really coming to tea?
    • She is sitting in the kitchen.
    • The table looks like a kitchen table.
    • There is a dishwasher, a washing-up brush and some washing liquid over to the side.
    • There are some jars and tins in the background (the area behind Judith). The jars look like they have ingredients like flour and sugar in them for baking. What do you think are in the tins?
    • She is holding her cat, Katinka.
    • Judith loved cats and wrote lots of stories that were based on her own cats. The most famous ones were books about a cat called Mog.
    • She also wrote a book called Katinka’s Tail.
    • Do you think Katinka wants to be in the portrait?
    • What sort of Expression A look on a person's face that shows their thoughts or feelings. can you see on her face? (Does she look kind, mean, happy, angry?)
    • What do you think she was like as a person?
    • Would you like to go to tea with Judith Kerr?
    • What would you like to say to her?
    • What questions would you ask her?
  1. Where would you choose to have a photographic portrait taken? At home, in the park, at school?
  1. Would you want to have someone else in the portrait with you, or a pet? Why would you choose them?

Judith Kerr’s life and books

Judith Kerr came to live in Britain with her family when she was a teenager. They were Refugee A person who has been forced to leave their country or home, because there is a war or for political, religious or social reasons. from Germany. At the time, it was too dangerous for Jewish families like Judith’s to live there.

She lived in Britain for the rest of her life and was still writing and illustrating books when she was over 90 years old.

Judith Kerr wrote and illustrated over 30 books.

  1. Can you find out what they are?
  1. How many do you know?
  1. Which one is your favourite?

Find out more

Find out more about Judith Kerr and her life story, especially if you’re learning about migration or the Second World War. In her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, she tells the story of moving to Britain from Germany as a teenager just before the Second World War.

  1. What might her life have been like when she was a young girl?
  1. What might she have seen when she came to Britain?

Explore more portraits

Explore more portraits of authors and illustrators.

  1. Have you read any of their stories or poems?
  1. What do you think these portraits say about the authors?