Why so many famous authors and illustrators love Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham

Published on: 08 February 2018

John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury are two stars of the children's book world, with decades of incredible illustrations and lots of famous fans between them. Here's why they are just so loved...

John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury have jointly won the Lifetime Achivement Award 2018

Turns out, this is a very popular decision, with lots of well-known names eager to tell us why this award is so well deserved – and how the two have influenced so many. 

Feast your eyes on their comments and the duo's jaw-dropping great illustrations below: we're fairly certain you'll want to get hold of every board book and picture book they've ever created...

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (Helen Oxenbury)

Cressida Cowell

It’s wonderful that BookTrust have given us all the opportunity to celebrate the inspiring work of both Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham.

As a parent, their books evoke lovely memories of enjoying books together when my children were very young. As an author and illustrator, I have huge respect and admiration for what both Helen and John have achieved. Their work is instantly recognisable, and what I think they have in common is a tremendous warmth of style and reassuring, gentle humour. I love so many of their books that it’s tricky to pick out my favourites, but I have a particular fondness for Helen’s First Books for Babies series and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, as well as John’s Mr Gumpy series and Edwardo the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World.

All these books have an emphasis on helping, empathy, and joy in the everyday that are ever-more relevant messages in a busy world.

Lauren Child

No one creates a more perfect picture book than John Burningham. His writing is touching, funny and profound; his illustrations are works of art.

Borka (John Burningham)

There are many who can draw well but there are few who can draw as elegantly and bring such warmth to her characters as Helen Oxenbury. She is a sublime illustrator, with a gift for drawing worlds one can believe in.

More about the Children's Laureate

Michael Morpurgo, President of BookTrust

For hundreds of thousands of children over several decades, the first books they ever fell in love with were by one or both of these wondrous storymakers.

To turn the pages of their books is to travel into other worlds, to discover and marvel, and to want to return again and again for another visit.

To read, to be read, Oi! Get Off Our Train or We're Going on a Bear Hunt, and so many other iconic books, is for so many the beginning of a a great adventure, a whole lifetime of reading. In themselves they are works of two great artists/storytellers. They make books you never forget, that you hold in your head and heart: as enjoyable for the grown-up child often reading them out aloud, and the smaller child, listening and looking, lost in words and pictures. How right and proper that they share this honour. Their readers everywhere will be full of hoorays and huzzahs, as I am!

We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Helen Oxenbury)

Nicolette Jones

John Burningham brings a fine artist’s skill to children’s illustration, with pioneering images that are rich in texture and free with line, appearing in some of the most beautiful, original and memorable picture books of the past 50+ years. This visual wealth, and his themes of freedom and forgiveness, of imagination and play, of concern for the environment and kindness to each other, make for substantial and resonant fare for children. Add to this his humour and sense of fun, and children are beguiled by Burningham into a lifetime’s love of looking and reading.

Surely one of our finest living draughtspeople, Helen Oxenbury has been a groundbreaking illustrator throughout her career.

Her baby books set a trend, and helped to persuade parents that you are never too young for books. Her images reflected the diversity of our society at a time when few did.

And the sheer loveliness of her line and warmth of her vision make every picture book of hers an object of lasting beauty.

Sophy Henn

John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury have delighted, entertained and comforted so many, many children with their wonderful books and I am thrilled to be involved in BookTrust's honouring of these brilliant picture book legends. Hooray for them!

Sarah McIntrye

I've learned a lot about making books from Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham. Helen's Farmer Duck was one of the first books that made me think hard about how much illustrated endpapers can set the mood for a book. Have a look at it: in the beginning, a landscape looks bleak and wintry, and at the end, it's lush and warmly sunlit. And I remember reading Perry Nodelman's classic study of picture books, Words about Pictures, and being astonished at how he spent a whole chapter breaking down the elements in just one page of John Birmingham's Mr Gumpy's Outing.

It made me realise children's book illustrations could be analysed and studied as closely as anything I'd learned about in my Art History classes at uni; they could have just as much packed into them.

I finally got to meet Helen and John, who were sitting at my dinner table at the Dubai Lit Fest in 2014. I was a little scared of John at first because he had a grumpy expression. But then when I got talking to them, both he and Helen were warm and lovely, and it was a wonderful evening. They're a rich part of the history of British illustration and storytelling, and I'm so proud to be working in the same field.

David Melling

Opening a John Burningham picture book is always a leap into the imagination. His words and pictures are perfectly balanced to compliment one another. My favourite is probably Granpa, which portrays the close relationship between a girl and her grandfather: the difference in ages forgotten as they share their childhood across the years. All "told" with his wonderful scratchy, anarchic drawings (what illustrator doesn’t secretly wish they could draw like that). His art speaks directly to children. John Burningham’s books have been directly responsible for inspiring me to become a children’s book illustrator.

Granpa (John Burningham)

There are two Helen Oxenbury picture books that my children, as teenagers now, insist on keeping on their shelves; Farmer Duck and We're Going on a Bear Hunt both were favourite bedtime reads. When you look at one of her exquisite landscape watercolours, you know the place exists. And her beautiful drawings, whether of adults, children or animals, are depicted with such delicate line and wonderful postures. Such observational art must be the result of years of sketchbooks filled with… Well, one can only imagine the delights!

Polly Dunbar

John Burningham’s paintings glow like happy, hazy childhood days… They make me want to run barefoot, outside, after dark.

Motor Miles (John Burningham)

Helen Oxenbury’s people are so alive and so fresh, I want to hold their hands and dance with them cheek to rosy cheek.

There’s a rare "otherness" to both Helen and John’s work, it’s the best kind of magic…. Hooray for the King and Queen of picture books!

Joseph Coelho

Helen Oxenbury’s works is at once beautifully distinctive and alive. Her characters are those that we see on our streets and I find myself believing that when I close any of her books, her characters live on between the pages.

Trish Cooke

Helen Oxenbury is a remarkable artist. I had always been a fan of her work so when she agreed to illustrate So Much, I was thrilled. She connected to the very heart of my words and created illustrations that were larger than life mirror images of photos in my actual family albums – photos she had never seen. I don’t know how she was able to channel images that were so familiar to me. She is amazing!

So Much (Helen Oxenbury)

Shirley Hughes

Helen Oxenbury is one of the most admired illustrators of her generation; applying her wide-ranging imagination to creating picture books which include the Kate Greenaway Award winning version of Edward Lear's The Quangle Wangle's Hat, and her inspired interpretation of Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt, in which she creates great adventures for the very young by opening up a whole landscape in both colour and black and white line. As an author illustrator, her 'Tom and Pippo' series epitomises the kind of books which small children can pore over and enjoy recognising their own experiences of life.

There's Going to Be a Baby (Helen Oxenbury)

Michael Rosen

Helen Oxenbury works in the great traditions of line, colour and composition to bring us the emotions of everyday life, often heightened by fantasy. She has reinvented the picture book for the very youngest children, reimagined classic texts, created new ones and – from a personal point of view – turned my adaptation of a folk chant into a great existential quest. It is all a huge achievement. In many different ways, I am more than grateful to Helen for her glorious work.

Floella Benjamin

Forty years ago, during my time on Playschool, I discovered the wonderfully magical talent of Helen Oxenbury. It was always such a delight to read her books and I loved bringing them to life.

They had an enchanting way of making every child believe they were part of the story and that the book was created for them.

David Roberts

John Burningham’s eclectic use of line, pencil, ink, crayon, wash, almost in a haphazard approach creates such joyful daring fearless exciting images. The freedom in his approach to using all sorts of medium to make pictures is so inspiring. It has certainly made me feel a lot freer with my own work about the image I am trying to create rather than the thing I am using to create it.

Anthony Browne

Like Sendak, John Burningham is a picture book maker who can write just as well as he can draw – a rare combination.

Avocado Baby (John Burningham)

Judith Kerr

I was inspired to become an illustrator by just one book – John Burningham’s wonderfully funny and wonderfully drawn Humbert, the working horse that got to pull the Lord Mayor’s coach. More than 50 years later, it is still one of the best picture books ever produced for children. 

More illustrations from Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham

Play
Time Now to Dream illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Time Now to Dream illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Avocado Baby illustrated by John Burningham
The Giant Jumperee illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Borka illustrated by John Burningham
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Granpa illustrated by John Burningham
There's Going To Be a Baby illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present illustrated by John Burningham
We're Going on a Bear Hunt illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
It's a Secret! illustrated by John Burningham
King Jack and the Dragon illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
King Jack and the Dragon illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Mouse House illustrated by John Burningham
Motor Miles illustrated by John Burningham
Time Now to Dream illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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Time Now to Dream illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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Avocado Baby illustrated by John Burningham

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The Giant Jumperee illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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Borka illustrated by John Burningham

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Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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Granpa illustrated by John Burningham

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There's Going To Be a Baby illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present illustrated by John Burningham

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We're Going on a Bear Hunt illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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It's a Secret! illustrated by John Burningham

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King Jack and the Dragon illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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King Jack and the Dragon illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

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Mouse House illustrated by John Burningham

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Motor Miles illustrated by John Burningham

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Lifetime Achievement Award

2018 winners: Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham

Learn more about our award, which we give every year for outstanding achievement in children's literature.

See a list of Helen Oxenbury's books

Our favourite books

Here are a few of our favourite picture books and board books by Helen Oxenbury.

See a list of John Burningham's books

Our favourite books

Check out some of our favourite picture books by John Burningham.