I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Jewish Museum in Camden before. I mean, I’m not actually Jewish, but that’s a terrible reason (arguably a greater impetus to visit in fact), and my husband is and therefore our child has Jewish heritage. Two of my friends have worked there (one still does). But this post isn’t about how I’m a terrible person; it’s about how I’m a ludicrously emotional person.
What finally shoved me through the doors was this small but beautifully curated exhibition of the work of Judith Kerr. I don’t know of a child who didn’t grow up on The Tiger Who Came to Tea; it was one of Ramona’s first memorised books, that she’d ‘read’ to me before she knew which word was which. It has charm, more than a touch of the bizarre, lovely touches of mundane realism that ground it and, most of all, gorgeous illustrations – the deft work of a talented woman who is still announcing new work at the age of 92.
Kerr was very nearly silenced before she started. Fleeing Nazi persecution in childhood, her family ended up in the UK via Switzerland (see what ‘migrants’ can offer? Not that it should matter whether they turn out to be artistic genius or not; human beings are always human). Here she has been ever since, and both the famous Tiger and her series of Mog books based on the adventures of her gorgeous tabby have won and broken the hearts of three generations of children (and their parents). I finally read Goodbye Mog for the first time, at Ramona’s insistence, sitting in the museum, in a giant cat bed. I cried and the beginning, and I cried at the end, and Ramona gave me a gentle cuddle and then sprang off to see more.
The four sections of the exhibition take in Kerr’s childhood, with a smattering of her youthful works of art – and a funny aside about how she failed the book illustration module of her first formal art training because she was so focussed on painting – leading into the more serious side of her work through novels such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. More teary eyes.
Suddenly, you turn right into Sophie’s kitchen, where a Tiger sits, devouring the all the sandwiches on the plate and all the tea in the teapot. Yep, as I sat in Sophie’s Daddy’s armchair, and tried on Sophie’s Mummy’s orange coat – Ramona in Sophie’s red one – I cried some more. I’m ridiculous.
Finally, kids can crawl through a cat door (adults don’t have to) into Mog’s world, and dress up as her as they curl up in her bed and have a catnap. Perfect.
Although we missed it, there is daily storytime at 10:30 while the exhibition is on, and there are arts and crafts workshops and activities available at other times. I’m absolutely gutted that I missed the opportunity to book a slot at Kerr’s talk – in person! – about her work.
The exhibition continues until mid-October. Entry to the recently beautifully rebuilt museum is £7.50 for adults and £3.50 for children (5-16) with concessions and family tickets available. That of course includes access to the rest of the museum too, which is rich with all aspects of Jewish history; the Holocaust, yes, of course, because how could it not be, but also the reality of Jewish life today, and Jewish practice in real homes of varying observance. It’s a gorgeous, airy, space and I intend to go back and explore properly, possibly without an overexcited 5yo, on another occasion. A note: the museum is open on Saturdays, which is when we went, but due to the kosher licence the cafe does not operate during Shabbat.
No disclosure needed – although I do have a friend that works there she had no idea I was going!