We were sorry to say goodbye to the children’s author and illustrator John Burningham, who passed away on 4 January at the age of 82. He was the author and illustrator of a number of the classic children’s titles of the 20th century, including: Borka, Mr. Grumpy’s Outing and Oi! Get off our Train.
His books have been well loved for years, not only for their beautiful artwork but also for the timeless insight and empathy they show for the world of a child. His 1984 book Granpa looks at the special relationship between a grandparent and child and sensitively addresses the issue of loss. Come Away from the Water, Shirley, published in 1977, shows us the internal world of a child in contrast with the language and intentions of less than attentive parents.
John Burningham came to illustration by accident after a chance meeting with a friend who was studying at the Central School of Art. His early work included puppets for animations and posters for London transport before he began writing and illustrating books for children. The success of these may be in part due to the way they leave a space between the image and the written narrative, allowing for an imaginative gap that can be filled by the reader.
Even at a point where he was well established in his career, John Burningham’s illustrations continued to develop. He was not afraid to experiment with media and produced more experimental titles - England (1992), Cloudland (1996) and France (1998) - in his later career.
John Burningham was married to the illustrator Helen Oxenbury for over 50 years. He was twice awarded the Kate Greenaway medal and in 2018 he and Helen Oxenbury were jointly awarded the BookTrust’s lifetime achievement award for their outstanding contribution to children’s literature.