John Burningham was born in Rowledge, Surrey on 27 April 1936. He was educated at the progressive Summerhill School and then, as a result of refusing National Service, was drafted into two years of work in farming and forestry, hospital and social work. He studied art at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1956-59), under Keith Vaughan, Laurence Scarfe and Bernard Neville. An award enabled him to retain his independence for a year, in which he designed some posters for London Transport and then worked in New York on educational publications.
Returning to England, Burningham developed his career as a children’s writer and illustrator, and was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal for Borka (1963), his very first book and again for Mr Gumpy’s Outing (1970), which also won the Boston Globe Book Award and was listed in the New York Times choice of the best illustrated children’s books of the year (1971). Subsequent successes have included The Wind in the Willows (1983) and Granpa (1984), the latter being turned into an award-winning film for UNICEF (Prix Jeunesse 1990), Oi!
Get Off Our Train (1989), Cloudland (1996) and Magic Bed (2003).
His ability to illustrate for adults as well as children is well- demonstrated by John Burningham’s England (1992) and John Burningham’s France (1998), and the two books he compiled and illustrated, The Time of Your Life (2002), and When We Were Young (2004), which were all launched at Chris Beetles Gallery. In 2006, a retrospective of his work was exhibited in the Sungkok Gallery, Seoul and in 2007, his one-man show, ‘The World of John Burningham’s Picture Book Artwork’, opened in Osaka, Japan, before moving to Tokyo in 2008. He went on to publish It’s a Secret!, London, Walker, 2009, and John Burningham, London, Jonathan Cape, 2009, an anthology of his work and memoir of his life.
John Burningham married fellow illustrator Helen Oxenbury in 1964. In 2010 they collaborated for the first time, and as a result were jointly awarded the BookTrust’s Lifetime Achievement award. John Burningham died in 2019, and was survived by Helen, their three children and seven grandchildren.