John Burningham’s work features on the back page of this issue of BfK where Brian Alderson focuses on the incomparable Mr Gumpy’s Outing. This deeply satisfying and original book thus stands alongside Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are as the only other picture book by a living artist to be featured so far in our ‘Classics in Short’ series.
Burningham’s work crops up again in the feature on picture books on page 7 where Joanna Carey discusses the 40th anniversary edition of his first picture book, Borka, the Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers. In his introduction to this celebratory edition, publisher Tom Maschler, who went out on a limb to publish Borka in 1963, tells us that the aspect of Burningham’s talent which he then admired and continues to admire above all is ‘his capacity to move readers – children and adults equally’. ‘There was one picture especially which I found extraordinary,’ he writes about Borka. ‘It was of a mother goose knitting a vest for its child born with no feathers and the child looks on poised and eagerly expectant.’ Both Borka (1963) and Mr Gumpy’s Outing (1970) were to be Kate Greenaway Medal winners.
Burningham’s latest book, The Magic Bed, with its pale crayon tints and dramatic washes, has that same consummate ability to communicate emotion via words and pictures. Georgie’s cot is now too small for him and a bed, which happens to be magic, is bought from a junk shop for the growing boy. When Georgie says the right word the bed takes him off to different worlds of adventure and experience – there he is, storytelling with gnomes and fairies, returning a lost tiger cub to its anxious parents, swimming with dolphins. These adventure spreads have the quality of a dreamlike condensation of experience and contrast with, while appearing to spring from, ‘real’ life. In some ways, this new book revisits the conventions established by Burningham in his bleakly touching Come Away From the Water, Shirley (1977) in which ‘reality’ is contrasted with daydream although, as ever, Burningham’s work continues to be new and challenging.
John Burningham’s work will be celebrated at greater length in a major BfK feature by Brian Alderson later this year. In the meantime, warm congratulations to him from BfK on Borka’s 40th anniversary.