[ talking to children ]
One thing that unites all his books for children is that he never talks down to children. John Burningham is always on the side of the child. In fact, his work, whilst it may appear naïve in style, is highly sophisticated in conception, and intriguing and challenging on many different levels. He communicates in a childlike but never childish visual language and instinctively understands the gulf between childhood and the adult world, almost with a sense of sadness for many of the adults who can no longer access this world of imagination and infinite possibility.
‘I would say that they know one’s on their side’.
In Time to Get out of the Bath Shirley, we see Shirley’s parents in simple line drawings, whilst on the other side, Shirley escapes via the bath plug hole to an imaginary world of colour and activity, in which he uses a range of different artistic techniques to convey the wonderful world of her imagination.
In Patrick Norman McHennessy, the Boy Who Was Always Late, as readers we celebrate the fact that the imaginary world is the real one and that the awful ‘Sir’ gets his just desserts. Moreover, John Burningham’s work, challenges the widely held belief that picture books are simple and easy to write and draw. Books such as Oi, Get off our Train, Whaddaymean and The Magic Bed are multi-layered, subtle and unpredictable and open-ended. They never underestimate the young reader.
“There is no demarcation in my work for children and for adults. It’s only that my books for children are more simplified in subject matter. When I draw a landscape it isn’t done so that kids can understand it. It’s just a landscape.”
It’s time to get out of the bath but Shirley’s not listening. She’s floated away to a secret watery land beyond the plughole – to where knights ride white horses, and kings and queens float in moats around their castles. . . ‘Time to get out of the bath’ was published in 1978 by Jonathan Cape. It was preceded in 1977 by ‘Come away from the water Shirley’
Every day, John Patrick sets off along the road to school, and although he hurries, strange and improbable happenings repeatedly make him late. To make things worse, his teacher never believes his story.
Originally published in 1987 by Jonathan Cape, Patrick Norman McHennessy, the Boy Who Was Always Late, is now one of John Burninghams best loved books