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Kids' Book Club: Mog The Forgetful Cat

30/09/2012 19:05 | Updated 22 May 2015

Mog has got to be the best-loved cat in British children's literature. For anyone who has a cat, it's all so realistic. Mog's forgetful and likes to dream in cosy warm places. She falls asleep on clothes and lies with her tail obscuring the TV screen.

She often gets stuck in the rain - standing mournfully with her drenched fur waiting to be let in - and isn't too fond of dogs or going to the V.E.T.

She is so closely observed that she is just like our cat; just like your cat; just like every cat. It's all as true today as it was in the 1970s and 80s.

Judith Kerr (who lives in London and was this year awarded an OBE) wrote an unforgettable series of over a dozen books about Mog and her family, the Thomases: Mr and Mrs Thomas and Nicky and Debbie. And it all started with Mog the Forgetful Cat in 1970, which tells the classic story of how Mog has a bad day culminating in licking Debbie's hair as she sleeps, which makes Debbie have a nightmare and wake crying. That illustration of Debbie waking from her bad dream is one of those things you remember from childhood.

But then Mog catches a burglar without really trying - and wins a medal.

It's a cosy world where burglars wear striped T-shirts and policemen wear blue helmets; where the parents say 'Bother that cat!' but love Mog really.

I feel a kind of reverence for Judith Kerr.

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Although her illustrations are filled with closely observed details of the time in which she drew them and so bring back the world of the past, they are also strangely timeless. There's something profoundly real in the expressions of her characters; something happy and sad.

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Mog was an autobiographical work for Judith Kerr. She had worked as an artist and BBC scriptwriter after the Second World War, and started writing and illustrating children's books when her children were young.

The first was the legendary The Tiger Who Came To Tea (1968) which she wrote after visiting a zoo with her three-year-old daughter. Nicky and Debbie are named after her own children's second names and the family Thomas after her husband Nigel's nickname of Tom.

The other Judith Kerr book everyone knows is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971), a fictionalised account of her childhood experience of fleeing Nazi Germany, which became a classic text in German schools and was followed by two other books, forming a trilogy.

Judith Kerr is still an active writer today (I am just looking at my copy of Mog's Family of Cats, which she signed a couple of years ago in our local bookshop - the queues to meet her were out the door).

Most unusually for a children's character, Mog dies in the end in 2002's Goodbye, Mog.

Judith Kerr said at the time: "I'm coming up to 80, and you begin to think about those who are going to be left - the children, the grandchildren. I just wanted to say: Remember. Remember me. But do get on with your lives."

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