'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 10 March 2019

Reviews: Helen Oxenbury: A Life In Illustration

Helen Oxenbury: A Life In Illustration is a stunning biography of one of the world's best known illustrators.

She is described as a 'wry and perceptive observer of people, places and things; the consummate professional; the champion of children'.

Written by children's book historian, author and critic, Leonard Marcus, it's a comprehensive celebration of Helen Oxenbury's life and work.

Even those who don't know her name will probably recognise her work.

Like illustrations for stories such as We're Going On A Bear Hunt, Farmer Duck and The Complete Alice; and her own Baby Board Books, and books featuring Tom and Pippo.

And if they don't recognise her work, they might recognise the Walker Bear, which she created as the logo of the publisher Walker Books.

Good at drawing from a young age, Helen studied theatre arts at London's Central School of Art and Design, where she met her future husband, author and illustrator, John Burningham.

Her first foray into book illustration came in the 1960s with Numbers of Things, a counting book. That was followed by books like The Quangle Wangle's Hat (the book of Edward Lear's poem) and The Dragon of An Ordinary Family (by Margaret Mahy), which earned her the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1969 -- unusually awarded, for the first time ever, for both books, not just one.

A Life In Illustration is presented chronologically, mostly broken into decades, with all the illustrations by Helen Oxenbury herself, and complemented by photos. It closes with post scripts from some of the authors Helen has illustrated for sharing their own memories of the collaboration with her. And a bibliography at the very end.

This is both a biography and coffee table book, with more than 250 pages, and it combines narrative biography with art technique, literary criticism, publishing and social history.

I'm thrilled to add this book to my own library of titles about creators of books. By reading Helen Oxenbury: A Life In Illustration, from cover to cover, or just dipping in and out, you'll feel you get to know Helen, and learn much about the world of children's books.

Title: Helen Oxenbury: A Life In Illustration
Author: Leonard S Marcus
Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury
Publisher: Walker Books, $49.99
Publication Date: November 2018
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781406357943
For ages: 12+
Type: Non-fiction