Nicolette Jones meets the children's writer and illustrator
By Nicolette Jones writing in The Telegraph
John Burningham has lived with his wife, the illustrator Helen Oxenbury, in the same Hampstead house for 30 years. It is embellished with stained glass windows and gothic doors, a decorative stone fireplace from Somerset and a window seat that once belonged to Lillie Langtry. It is full of Victorian features found on building sites and, more recently, on eBay. In the garden there is a stone fountain from a French square and a belfry that once adorned an English church. Burningham has become expert at how to move masonry and glass across counties and even countries. It is the home of someone who not only has an eye, but also the imagination to think big.
It fits with the picture books he has made – about 50 of them since Borka: the Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers was published in 1963. His are quirky stories that reflect his enthusiasm for Ronald Searle, Saul Steinberg and the French cartoonists André François and Albert Dubout, and his interest in landscape and light. They also resonate with big ideas, though he insists that they contain “no propaganda whatsoever”. Still we agree, as we chat overlooking the garden and the belfry, that Edwardo: the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World expresses a principle which could valuably be applied not just to child-rearing but to the penal system and even to foreign policy. Edwardo behaves badly when he is criticised and punished, but becomes kind and useful when, even in the face of his wrongdoing, he is given opportunities. “We are beginning to see it now even on an international level that you can’t just keep bombing people and expect them to change their ways. It isn’t going to work,” says Burningham. The world could learn a lot from Edwardo.