John Burningham, the picture book author and illustrator whose books included Would You Rather and Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, has died aged 82.
His literary agent, Clare Conville of C&W, told the Guardian the writer and artist died on Friday (4th January) after contracting pneumonia.
Burningham began his career in 1969 with Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers, which won the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. He was married to illustrator Helen Oxenbury and was a finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2012 and 2014.
Last year Burningham and Oxenbury were the joint winners of the BookTrust’s Lifetime Achievement Award, when Burningham announced the publication of More Would You Rather, a sequel to Would You Rather, which was first published 40 years ago.
At the time he told The Bookseller the process of creating a book was “very difficult”. He added: ”People who are not artists don’t understand. If you are a pianist you have to practice every day and it's the same with art. You have moments of great uplift but often it is not fun, and you have moments when it is a real chore."
Paying tribute to Burningham, Penguin Random House Children’s m.d. Francesca Dow said: “John was a true original, a picture-book pioneer 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.
“Jonathan Cape published his debut, the Kate Greenaway medal-winning Borka in 1963, and ever since then we have been the proud publishers of his truly special picture books, including last year’s marvellous sequel to the classic Would You Rather and the forthcoming Mr Gumpy’s Rhino, where John revisits one of his most beloved characters.
“It was wonderful to celebrate with John last spring when he was awarded the Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award at the same time that his wife, Helen Oxenbury, was honoured. This was a fitting recognition of his sparkling career, which spanned well over fifty years and saw him win numerous awards around the world, including two Greenaway medals, the New York Times Best Illustrated Award and the Kurt Maschler Award. This was a wonderful moment in which John’s peers came together to express their admiration for a truly innovative and influential creator.
“John will be much missed by his publishing family here at Penguin Random House, and our thoughts and very best wishes are with Helen and his family.”