In Memoriam: Children’s Illustrator John Burningham
John Burningham, who died earlier this month aged 82, was the creator of beloved picture books including Mr Gumpy’s Outing and Avocado Baby.
He and his wife and fellow illustrator Helen Oxenbury were given a joint lifetime achievement award from children’s charity Booktrust last year, celebrating their work on books including Husherbye, Granpa and Oi! Get Off Our Train. The award was revealed when Burningham announced the publication of More Would You Rather, a sequel to Would You Rather, which was first published 40 years ago.
John studied illustration and graphic design at the Central School of Art, graduating with distinction in 1959. Many illustration commissions followed including iconic posters for London Transport, before the publication of Borka: the Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers, John’s first book for children, published by Jonathan Cape in 1963, which won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration and heralded the beginning of an extraordinary career.
He went on to write and illustrate over thirty picture books, which have been translated and distributed all over the world, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming (Jonathan Cape, 1964); Mr Gumpy’s Outing (Cape, 1970) also awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal; Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (Cape, 1972); The ShoppingBasket (Random House, 1980); The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Penguin/Puffin, 1983); Granpa (Cape, 1984) later made into an animated film and Oi! Get off our Train (Cape, 1989).
His last book for children, Mr Gumpy’s Rhino, will be published later this year by Jonathan Cape.
He also wrote various books for adults such as England (Cape, 1992); France (Jonathan Cape, 1998); The Time of Your Life (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002) When We Were Young (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004), and Champagne (LochAwe Books, 2015).
Tug of War was republished in 2012, and a special edition of Borka, celebrating 50 years in print, was published in June 2013, while Chitty Chitty Bang Bang celebrated its 50th year in print with a limited hardback edition published in 2015. One of his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang illustrations sold for over £1000 in aid of Red Noise Day the same year.
As well as his books, he was also a freelance designer of murals, exhibitions models, magazine illustrations and advertisements.
In 2012, he was shortlisted for a Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, which celebrates one living illustrator’s lasting contribution to children’s literature.
“John was a true original, a picture-book pioneer,” commented Penguin Random House Children’s Managing Director Francesca Dow, “and an endlessly inventive creator of stories that could be by turns hilarious and comforting, shocking and playful.
“He never spoke down to children, always treating them with the utmost respect.”
John Burningham, born 27th April 1936, died 4th January 2019 is survived by his wife, illustrator, Helen Oxenbury, three children and four grandchildren
Helen Oxenbury, illustrator of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and her husband, the author and illustrator John Burningham, spoke to the Sunday Times of the art of a long and happy marriage a few weeks before he died
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