Go to contents

John Burningham dies: ‘Nothing has changed’

Posted January. 21, 2019 07:47,   

Updated January. 21, 2019 07:47


John Burningham, British author and illustrator of countless much-loved children's books, passed away on January 4 at the age of 82. We can no longer meet more of his picture language that deeply resonates with us through witty metaphors.

The award-winning author-illustrator ushered in the era of picture books in collaboration with legendary children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak of the U.S. in the early 1960s. His books ruthlessly satirized and booed the core of daily routines among people in the contemporary world. "My Picture Book Story" by Burningham published in 2006 reveals his life. Various pictures and records in the book illustrate how protagonists who are liberal, progressive and resistant against oppression yet cheerful in his picture books were created.

His father was received order of merit for his patriotic contributions during the First World War, but he remained silent about war. He was a conscientious draft dodger during the Second World War. As his family had to constantly travel to follow his father who moved from village to village in search of job, Burningham had to attend as many as nine schools and gained diverse and exciting experience.

He always wanted to ask his father about war, but could not ask any questions, because he thought that "the day when he asks questions to his parents" should be designated as a national holiday. Some of his picture books would inconvenience his parents’ generation. Perhaps, he might have written everything he wanted to ask his parents in all of his picture books.

Many questions that our own parents or the world have never answered also remain unanswered. It is natural that parents cannot answer all of children’s questions. The period of our adolescence when we believe that we are different from our parents’ generation and that we can change the world might as well be pretense. Young people who sought answers have become parents in no time. We thought everything would change, but nothing has changed significantly in reality. Today, I will have to go to library and read Burningham’s books, where I can start anew.

Mu-Kyung Shin fighter@donga.com