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Jill Murphy, Author Of 'The Worst Witch' And 'Five Minutes Peace,' Has Died At 72

Candlewick Press

British children's author and illustrator Jill Murphy has died. Murphy's books include The Worst Witch and The Large Family series. Murphy died of cancer at a hospital in Cornwall on Wednesday at the age of 72. According to her publisher, her son Charlie and niece Isabelle were at her side.

If you ever needed five minutes of peace from parenting, Jill Murphy was your friend. The first book in her series about The Large family of elephants begins with a weary Mrs. Large enjoying a nice bubble bath and a cup of tea when, one by one, her three rambunctious children come in to spoil the moment. Well, not for them. In Five Minutes Peace, they have a blast splishing and splashing about. According to Macmillan, The Large family series has sold five million copies around the world. It was also turned into a TV series.

Jill Murphy started writing and illustrating stories when she was a little girl growing up in London. She once said her earliest memory was "sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by sheets of drawings." Murphy attended a Catholic Grammar school where the nuns were strict. In 2019, she told The Daily Telegraph her teachers often pointed out her "hopelessness in all other areas of the curriculum and total lack of common sense."

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The convent partly inspired the setting for Murphy's first book, The Worst Witch, magically finished when she was just 18, and published when she was 24. Murphy also admitted that she was the model for her protagonist Mildred Hubble, the worst witch at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, described in the book as "one of those people who always seem to be in trouble. She didn't exactly mean to break rules and annoy teachers, but things just seemed to happen when she was around." The Worst Witch became a beloved book series, TV and stage show, the latter of which recently won an Olivier award.

Murphy's friend and agent Pamela Todd tells Macmillan, "Her genius lay in the way both the child and the adult could identify with her stories, which she wrote and illustrated herself. Children who grew up on Peace at Last, Whatever Next! and The Large family are now buying the books for their children's children."

Parents around the world might relate to writer Lissa Evans' tribute on social media:

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.