Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham win lifetime books award

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The Booktrust has awarded the first-ever double lifetime achievement award to John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury, the couple who are both celebrated for creating some of the most iconic children's picture books.

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Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham are the first joint winners of the BookTrust's Lifetime Achievement Award

Helen Oxenbury is the critically acclaimed illustrator of Michael Rosen's book We're Going on a Bear Hunt, and for illustrating titles such as The Three Little Wolves, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.

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Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

John Burningham is well-known for books such as Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers, Husherbye, Avocado Baby and Granpa, which tackles important issues such as bereavement.

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Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers, by John Burningham


The award winners have also been a married couple since 1964. Helen and John have collaborated just once, on the book There’s going to be a Baby in 2010.

The BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates the body of work of an author or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to children's literature.

John said of winning the award, ‘I’m incredibly grateful to be given an award for a lifetime of work. I’m so very flattered when I hear people now say they love my books and that something I did 50 years ago still works and is enjoyed by their family.’

Helen said, ‘It’s particularly lovely as we have been awarded this honour jointly - and to get an award from BookTrust who know everything there is to know about children’s books is just wonderful.’

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust and chair, of the judging panel, said, ‘BookTrust is delighted to grant both John and Helen Lifetime Achievement Awards. John always creates such funny and loveable characters. His books evoke such fond memories for me and he has had an extraordinary impact in terms of child development.

‘Helen’s illustrations and writing are so warm, so elegant and yet so forward thinking; her work enables children from all walks of life to see their faces in the pages. We have taken the unprecedented decision to honour them both because choosing between two giants of children’s books proved near impossible and felt that both their brilliance should be recognised. Acknowledging these two titans of industry is a tremendous honour and they are both so equally deserving.’

The other members of the judging panel were current Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child; author and television presenter Dame Floella Benjamin; writer and illustrator Anthony Browne; poet and playwright Joseph Coelho, and writer and critic Nicolette Jones.

Michael Rosen said, ‘Helen Oxenbury works in the great traditions of line, colour and composition to bring us the emotions of everyday life, often heightened by fantasy.'

Referring to Helen's illustrations for his much-loved picture book We’re going on a Bear Hunt, the children's author said, 'She has reinvented the picture book for the very youngest children, reimagined classic texts, created new ones and - from a personal point of view - turned my adaptation of a folk chant into a great existential quest. It is all a huge achievement. In many different ways, I am more than grateful to Helen for her glorious work.’

Children’s author and illustrator Judith Kerr said, ‘I was inspired to become an illustrator by just one book - John Burningham’s wonderfully funny and wonderfully drawn HUMBERT, the working horse that got to pull the Lord Mayor’s coach. More than fifty years later it is still one of the best picture books ever produced for children.’

The Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award was set up in 2015 to recognise an author or illustrator's lifetime of work. The first winner was Shirley Hughes, author of Dogger and the Alfie series, Judith Kerr was awarded the accolade in 2016 and The Snowman author Raymond Briggs was honoured with the prize in 2017.

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