Into the Clouds with Air Miles

h1 July 21st, 2022 by jules

“He flew higher than ever before.
He flew farther than ever before.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


Sadly, we lost author-illustrator John Burningham in 2019. But his fans will be happy to see one final story from him — Air Miles (Candlewick, June 2022), which features the main character from Motor Miles. (Motor Miles was published in 2016. Click here to read about Motor Miles and here to see some spreads.)

The story here is based on an idea of John’s, though the text was completed by his friend Bill Salaman and illustrated by John’s wife, the one and only Helen Oxenbury. The book also includes three of John’s illustrations, and his thumbnail sketches adorn the endpapers.

You may remember from Motor Miles that Miles lives with Norman Trudge and Norman’s mother, Alice. Even though Miles is a “very difficult dog,” the Trudges love him. Their neighbor, Mr. Huddy, builds a car for Miles, and the book closes with the construction of an airplane and the tantalizing: “I wonder who that is for?”

In the new book, we read that Miles is older — and tired. He doesn’t chase balls like he once did; his legs hurt; and sometimes he can’t hear when the family calls for him. Norman heads to Mr. Huddy’s house, who reminds the boy about the plane he’s been building. And: “Quickly, Miles learned how to fly.” (This strikes me as a very Burningham plot construction, much like “Marie Elaine got small, and they went out of the house through the cat door” from It’s a Secret! Burningham knew how to keep a plot moving and knew that in the mind of a child, a person can just shrink and a dog undoubtedly can instantaneously learn to fly.) Flying fatigues Miles, but he keeps at it, flying over lakes, hills, the coast, big cities, and more. Here, readers are treated to Oxenbury’s eloquent, panoramic watercolor spreads — and one from John.

As you can see below, Miles gets to a point where he no longer enjoys walks or his food. He even stops flying. One day, he leaves the house. Norman follows him and helps him into his cockpit. In a wordless spread from Oxenbury, we see tire-eyed Norman rev the engine. In the poignant final spread (but not the final illustration), pictured above, he flies away, “higher” and “farther than ever before.” Miles is gone. “Goodbye, Miles.” Goodbye, John.

An opening note from Oxenbury states that John was ill when thinking about this book and asked her to finish it for him. “At this point,” she writes, “Miles had died, so I thought my contribution could be my homage to the two much-loved men in my life.”

Here are some more illustrations from this moving tribute to Burningham (and his and Helen’s own “much-loved, difficult dog”), which is a tender story of love, loss, and letting go — and even the inherent mystery of death and what thrilling, otherworldly twilight flights might await us.



Two images above: Click either image to see spread in its entirety)



Two images above: Click either image to see spread in its entirety)


(Click cover to enlarge)


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AIR MILES. Text copyright © 2021 by the Estate of John Burningham and by William Salaman. Illustrations © 2021 by Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

2 comments to “Into the Clouds with Air Miles

  1. I think I probably need this beautiful book for my dog book collection along with the first one, but gosh Jules, I am already sobbing. Thank you for sharing.

  2. That is simply lovely. What a wonderful way to imagine departures from this life – as just flying off into another adventure, where being tired is no longer a problem.

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