John Burningham

John BurninghamYou prob­a­bly know John Burn­ing­ham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Out­ing but illus­tra­tors, book cre­ators, are so much more than what we see between the cov­ers of their books. Their lives are often illus­trat­ed. They record things on paper visu­al­ly. They put what they’ve observed into draw­ers and port­fo­lios and note­books so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this epony­mous­ly titled book, John Burn­ing­ham (Can­dlewick Press), both Mau­rice Sendak and Bri­an Alder­son write fore­words for the book, par­tic­u­lar­ly about the ear­ly 1960s which saw the pub­li­ca­tion of Bor­ka (Burn­ing­ham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furi­ous­ly fresh­ly designed pic­ture book days. Down with the sim­per­ing 19th cen­tu­ry goody-goody books that deprived chil­dren of their ani­mal nature, wild imag­i­na­tion, and lust for liv­ing.” (Sendak)

The major­i­ty of the book is Burningham’s remem­brances of child­hood, liv­ing in a car­a­van with his fam­i­ly dur­ing World War II, his ear­ly jobs, attend­ing the Cen­tral School of Arts, and each of his books. This Lit­er­ary Madeleine is replete with sketch­es, draw­ings, and fin­ished work, pho­tos, inspi­ra­tion, and observances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some highlights:

There is a mis­con­cep­tion that pic­ture books for chil­dren should be packed with colour and dec­o­ra­tion on every page. This is rather like say­ing a suc­cess­ful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the jux­ta­po­si­tion and build-up of sound that makes music inter­est­ing.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my child­hood draw­ings, I real­ize I have repro­duced them again years lat­er. The plumb­ing pic­ture I drew as a child is very sim­i­lar to the pic­ture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers com­ments on many of his books, insight­ful, pro­duc­ing much flip­ping back and forth to look at oth­er draw­ings, to exam­ine how Burn­ing­ham has done this else­where, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Rail­way Com­pa­ny hired him to make a book about the Yoshit­sune, Japan’s first steam loco­mo­tive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osa­ka in 1990. The paint­ing below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very reveal­ing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first pub­lished in Japan in 1989. It is an envi­ron­men­tal tale, now ded­i­cat­ed to Chico Mendes, who did so much try­ing to pro­tect the rain­forests. He was mur­dered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endan­gered species, but more than that it’s about the social hier­ar­chy of young chil­dren and the need to ease them­selves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHar­vey Slumfenburger’s Christ­mas Present relates the sto­ry of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christ­mas is the one that Father Christ­mas will bring him. “Father Christ­mas was very tired. The rein­deer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christ­mas knew he had to get the present to Har­vey Slum­fen­burg­er.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read care­ful­ly, savored, and cher­ished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quick­ly be pulled into his art­work once again. You’ll find your­self filled with effer­ves­cence, the type that car­ries you on to do great things.

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