Yesterday the news arrived that one of the geniuses of children’s literature, John Burningham, has died. When I heard, I was brokenhearted, for he has gifted us with so many treasured stories and all the fond memories of reading them, and loving them, together.
Here’s a link to The Guardian’s fine obituary.
What I would like to say about John Burningham is that he was one of the finest storytellers for young children I’ve encountered. His ability to understand and connect with children, and to do so with such evident respect for their intelligence, his grasp for how both the seemingly inconsequential and the profound dwell equally in their questions and wonderings, resulted in immensely engaging books I could read hundreds of times over — and did — without ever tiring of them.
Burningham often dappled his subjects with delicious quirkiness and sparkling fancifulness. He was tender without ever veering toward soppiness, and satisfyingly plainspoken.
I adore his amiable, quavering, homely characters, all so approachable. Mr. Gumpy, in particular, has worn as dear a spot in my heart as Mr. Rogers, and our books about those motor car and boat adventures are as battered, smudged, and rumpled as any on our shelves, a certain sign of my childrens’ adoration.
Once in a blue moon, I find myself doubting the power for good of picture books, such a humble vessel for power. But when I think about the golden warmth that stirs in my heart and soul when I recall John Burningham’s books – that is true Goodness. These stories reveal deep truths about the world. We encounter Kindness and Gentleness and Mercy in Mr. Gumpy. We experience frivolity and imagination and joy and verve through Burningham’s work, ingredients that enrich our humanity. His books have evoked gladness and comfort and bonding in our family! That is truly powerful stuff. Art, specifically the art of a children’s book, is powerful, not superfluous.
If you are not yet acquainted with Burningham’s books, I invite you to take this opportunity to join his throng of admirers.
Here are links to the titles I’ve shared through the years on Orange Marmalade. Click on the title to read my review.
Tellingly, the first appeared shortly after I started my blog, in 2010, when I was eagerly sharing our all time favorites:
And here’s the second of the beloved Mr. Gumpy books:
I love this welcoming-baby book Burningham co-created with his wife, the equally-talented Helen Oxenbury:
Here’s a fabulous example of his quirky, fantastical storytelling:
And a charming bedtime story:
The most recent of his books that I reviewed on Orange Marmalade is this jaunty tale, published in 2016:
Burningham also illustrated Ian Fleming’s classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, one of my all-time favorite read-alouds and quite, quite different from the Disney movie you know:
Of course there are many, many more outstanding titles on the John Burningham bookshelf so check in your libraries and independent bookshops to discover more of his gems.
Thank you, John.