7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #621: Featuring John Burningham

h1 January 13th, 2019 by jules

— Illustration above is from Mouse House, originally released in the UK in 2017

I was sorry to hear this week about the death of British illustrator John Burningham, whose picture books have brought me so much joy over the years. He was an immensely talented artist and my very favorite. I’ve read many tributes to him this week — my favorite has been illustrator Polly Dunbar, saying in this piece that his paintings are ones that “make me want to run barefoot, outside, after dark” — and feel at a loss for words to describe what it was about his artwork that I found so dynamic.

But I can try to ascribe words to it: I think perhaps, for me, it boils down to his style and his deep respect for child audiences. As for the latter, in the aforelinked piece, he is quoted as saying:

“I would say that [children] know one’s on their side. Children are not less intelligent, they’re just less experienced, and there is this rather silly attitude that can be adopted, that ‘Oh it’s for children, it’s got to be pink coloured cakes or lots of pattern everywhere, that’s what they’ll like’, and they’re bored. And if they don’t like it they simply won’t look at it.”

As for his mixed media style, I love the element of surprise in a Burningham book. I love how you can turn the page and go from bright paintings of his child protagonists to richly textured, dramatic landscapes and panoramas; think of the twists and turns Santa takes in Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present (one of my favorite picture books any time of year) and the stark, beautiful landscapes therein. (Over a decade ago, I wrote here about my abiding love for this book.) I love how in this Guardian obituary it is noted that Burningham “[applied] bursts of car paint spray and swipes of boot polish” to the illustrations for Borka, his debut book. From spread to spread, the textures can vary wildly, almost as if you are reading more than one book, but it always works. He always kept you on your toes. He consistently kept things, visually, very exciting. And his words and art were terrifically child-centered, reverence be damned; he was always on the side of the child and never talked down to young readers. Wrote Maurice Sendak in 2008: “Your work, John, is stunning, luscious, sexy, hilarious and mysterious and frequently just plain nuts.”

I have spent a lot of time this week looking through this beautiful book and falling in love with his artwork all over again:



Pictured below are some illustrations from Mouse House, his most recent book, released by Candlewick last September. It is a tribute to the large hearts and generosity of children.


“One evening, the boy is on his way to bed when he says,
‘Look, there’s a mouse.'”

(Click to enlarge spread)


(Click second image to see spread in its entirety)



Penguin Random House UK released this statement last week, and it includes the happy news that Burningham’s final picture book, Mr. Gumpy’s Rhino, will be published this August by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s.

May Burningham rest in peace.

MOUSE HOUSE. Copyright © 2017 by John Burningham. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) The number of times I read Burningham’s Hushabye to my own daughters when they were very young.

2) Just for kicks, my youngest daughter learned this below on piano. It is beautiful to hear her play it.



3) Finally starting Atlanta.

4) Weeding books, clearing up space, and making donations.

5) Getting Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Navigator, the best album of 2017, on vinyl.

6) A new season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. (“What’s up, beaches?”)

7) Finishing all of Elena Ferrante’s so-called Neopolitan Novels, though I feel a little bereft now.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #621: Featuring John Burningham”

  1. What gorgeous artwork, and a lovely tribute from Polly Dunbar, and such praise from Sendak! Mouse House looks charming and I really love the cover illustration on the John Birmingham book – that is a garden I could live in.

    Jules – the piano piece is beautiful, how nice that you get it played for you by your youngest. yay for favorite shows returning and god books to read.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Getting to spend 4 days in New York.
    2) Spending the first day with an old friend, walking everywhere, including the Highline park, then grabbing drinks in The White Horse Tavern & then dinner at a family owned Sardinian restaurant.
    3) Meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen since college & scoring last minute tickets to The Prom musical – so fun!
    4) Cat sitting for 2 days & getting to pretend like I lived in the city.
    5) Walking around Central Park on a sunny cold day and reading park bench dedications that said tings like “Whose as lucky as we?” and “She was outraged and outrageous!”
    6) Top of the Rock at night seeing the whole city lit up like the jewel that it is.
    7) A perfect last day wandering around: riding the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty (so beautiful and moving), visiting Fearless Girl, Grand Central Station, and the New York Public Library, even hanging out in the Rose Reading Room to read for a bit.
    7.5) Taking my friend to see Sara Bareilles on her opening night in Waitress – so good and much fun!
    Bonus Kicks – starting the new year off with travel and good friends, then coming home to Miss Daisy, all makes me feel like so incredibly lucky, and grateful, for such a good life.

    Have a wonderful week everyone!

  2. Hi Imps!

    Jules: What a lovely tribute. Hi to your musical daughters! That is such a lovely song.

    Rachel: Glad that you had a fun trip! Yay musicals and cats and friends and Sara Bareilles!

    My kicks from the last week:
    1) Discussing movies
    2) and TV shows
    3) Playlists
    4) Things that fit
    5) Connected
    6) Updated
    7) Calm

  3. Oh, Jules, I too was saddened by this news. Thank you for including the tribute quotes. (I keep thinking how lonely his wife must feel.)

    Hooray for weeding, clearing up space and making donations, Jules. I’ve been doing the same thing as I continue to unpack.

    Thank you for sharing your Central Park bench quotations, Rachel.

    I’ve always enjoyed discussing movies, too, Little Willow. In fact, this week, I was remembering a group of friends in college who hung a huge sheet of paper on their dorm room door. It was filled with one memorable quote per movie.

    My kicks:
    1. Sunrises and sunsets
    2. Stacks of picture books from the library
    3. Finding things I didn’t know were lost
    4. Baking pumpkin chocolate chip bread
    5. Trying new soup recipes
    6. Writing
    7. Snuggling and walking with Mulan

    Have a wonderful week.

  4. Margie: Oh, that’s fun! I love good writing and I love good quotes.

  5. Rachel, your kicks glow with fabulousness. That trip sound wonderful. I think my favorite may be the park bench dedications. I’m so glad you had a wonderful time.

    Little Willow: “Connected.” It’s the best thing about blogging, too, I think — the community.

    Margie: I’m jealous of the snow you’re getting (that I see in your social media feed). I am starting to wonder if we’ll get any snow at all this winter (here in middle TN), and my daughters reeeeally want at least one Snow Day. … Enjoy your sunrises and sunsets in the snow. And walks with sweet, beautiful Mulan.

    Have a good week, you all!

  6. What a lovely piano piece.
    Little known fact: My very first books, Winnie All Day Long and Winnie Plays Ball (Candlewick, 2000), were illustrated by William Benedict, son of John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury. I danced around the house when I learned my words would be so blessed.
    Burningham will be greatly missed indeed. Thanks for your tribute.

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