LAST week saw the sad death of one of our greatest children’s writers, Judith Kerr. Kerr was one of those brilliant writers who had that magical knack of marrying illustrations and story to capture the minds of young children. Books like The Tiger Who Came To Tea were ones that I was read as a child, and then went on to read to my own children as well.

By chance, the day after Judith Kerr’s death was announced, I caught up with Salisbury’s own pre-eminent children’s writer, Kristina Stephenson, to talk about her latest book. Kristina described Judith Kerr as ‘my absolute hero’ and a wonderful observer of children’s behaviour. She recalled meeting Judith Kerr at the Edinburgh Festival, and found her charming, inspirational and terribly modest about her remarkable achievements.

Maybe this is what makes a great children’s writer, because all these attributes can also be used to describe Kristina as well. For many years she has been delighting children with her work, most famously with her bestselling Sir Charlie Stinky Sock series. Now she has taken a pause from her best-known character to publish a delightful new standalone book, Why Are There So Many Books About Bears?

Kristina described how the moment of inspiration came from a cull of books at home. Trying to reduce the number of books in the house, one of her children pointed out the similarity of many of those discarded asking, well, why are there so many books about bears? It was a question that Kristina didn’t know the answer to: neither, it turned out, did the various editors and publishers she asked, who came up with a variety of reasons. The story developed out from this, shaped around a hardy collection of animal academics at Oxford University discussing the subject, from William Snakespeare to Albert Swinestein. And the answer to the question? You’ll have to buy the book for your children or grandchildren to find out.

As with all of Kristina’s work, it’s witty and warm-hearted stuff: in the modern way, there’s a playful nod, too, for the adults reading as well. As Kristina pointed out, it is they who are buying and reading the book: the story has to pull off the difficult trick of entertaining both generations alike.

But that shared moment of family entertainment is one increasingly at risk. Kristina talked about the rising threat that illustrated books face from tablets and smartphones: children just aren’t being read to in the way they were even five years ago. That’s a shame for a whole heap of reasons, and something to stand firm against. We should feel fortunate to have someone as talented as Kristina to help keep the flame alive.