Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration words by Leonard S. Marcus, 288 pp, RL 5
HELEN OXENBURY a life in illustrations
Words by Leonard S. Marcus
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
I feel like the picture book We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen has always been a part of my life, but the reality is that it was published in 1989. This book, along with the Tom & Pippo stories, which I first discovered in Babybug Magazine, which my mother-in-law subscribed my daughter to when she was born in 1993, were my introduction to the remarkable Helen Oxenbury. Only later did I learn that Oxenbury was married to John Burningham and that they two were basically British kid's book royalty. I've always been drawn to all-things-British and Oxenbury's illustrations of children and nature seem charmingly so. I also recognized and appreciated the diversity she brought to her characters and, reading this book, it was wonderful to learn the personal ethos that lead to this in Helen's works. I was especially excited when, after decades of marriage and long careers as illustrators and authors, John and Helen finally collaborated on one of the best new baby books for siblings I've read, There's Going to Be A Baby.
As someone who has loved and valued picture books for decades, getting to peek into Oxenbury's life and her creative process is truly a treat. It is especially wonderful to see her work from the start of her career, when she published her first book in 1967, and see how it has developed and changed in style and content. There is another connection between Helen Oxenbury and picture books that I was particularly excited to learn more about. Starting my career as a children's bookseller (and reader for story time) in 1995, I quickly learned that Candlewick Press, based in Somerville, MA, was consistently publishing the best written and most marvelously illustrated picture books on the market. I soon learned that Candlewick Press, which started in 1991, is the sister company of Walker Books, which was founded in 1978 in England by Sebastian Walker. The walking bear holding a candle is the logo for both companies, and this logo, unbeknownst to me until reading this book, was created by Helen!
I realize that not everyone wants to read a biography of a creator of picture books, but it this IS your cup of tea, HELEN OXENBURY a life in illustration, is a gorgeously designed, thoroughly written, magnificently illustrated biography. If this is not your cup of tea, I hope you will share Oxenbury - and Burningham's - books with the little ones in your lives. Scroll down for a sampling of Helen's works and links to my reviews of a few of them.