Illustrator Helen Oxenbury has paid tribute to her husband John Burningham, who died last week.
Oxenbury, who was married to Burningham for 54 years, said: “John was a gargantuan character who played a huge part in my life and in the lives of our children and grandchildren, as he did in the lives of children all over the world, with his wonderful stories and his insight into a child’s mind. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t met John. He’s guided me, influenced me and inspired me my entire life.”
Burningham is survived by Oxenbury, their children Lucy, Bill and Emily, and seven grandchildren.
The family released a joint statement, saying: “We feel we’ve lost a truly wonderful and original husband, father and grandfather, who inspired us, surprised us, and exasperated us in equal measure.”
Burningham was born in 1936 in Surrey and attended various progressive schools, including Summerhill. He was awarded his School Certificate in English Literature, but Art, among other subjects. He registered as a conscientious objector in 1954 and spent two years doing alternative military service before beginning a course in design and illustration at the Central School of Arts, where he met Oxenbury.
He published his first picture book, Borka, the Adventure of a Goose With No Feathers, with Jonathan Cape in 1963, winning the Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration, and went on to publish more than 70 titles. His final book, Mr Gumpy’s Rhino, will be published this August by Jonathan Cape, which is part of Penguin Random House.
Francesca Dow, m.d. of Penguin Random House Children’s 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.
“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.”
Burningham and Oxenbury were together awarded BookTrust lifetime achievement awards last year.