40 years in, and author still keeps kids happy

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40 years in, and author still keeps kids happy

It takes great effort to learn how to communicate with children to become a good children’s author. At least, British author John Burningham, 69, thinks so.
“Children know exactly what they want, so it is especially important to understand their mind. My mental age stopped at the age of five,” Mr. Burningham said.
The author came to Korea last week in time for the publication of his new book, “John Burningham,” which covers his 40-year career as an author and illustrator of children’s books. Burningham remains tremendously popular here, with Korean mothers ready to fork out cash as soon as his new books hit the shelves.
Though usually quiet, when Burningham talks he can sound like a brusque grandfather. He twice received the Kate Greenaway Medal, which is awarded to outstanding works of writing and illustration, and won the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year award four times.
Born in 1936, he attended the alternative education establishment, Summerhill, in Suffolk, England. At 17, he became a conscientious objector, and avoided military service by joining the Friends Ambulance Unit, a volunteer ambulance service. In the autumn of 1960, his life as an illustrator began; he published his first book, “Borka,” in 1963.
Among his 34 books available in Korea are “Granpa,” “Oi! Get Off Our Train,” and “The Boy Who Was Always Late,” the last of which has sold some 230,000 copies in Korea since its release in 1995.
In total, more than 1 million of his books have been sold here.
There are also many ardent fans of his book, “We’re going on a Bear Hunt,” for which his wife, Helen Oxenbury, did some illustrations.
Asked why his books are so popular, Mr. Burningham said, “Children like illustrated books embedded with diverse experiences. Perhaps they feel catharsis from the satire of adults’ hypocrisy and stories that focus on children’s state of mind.”
Critics say Mr. Burningham’s books broke with the orthodoxy that states all children’s books should describe the beauty in things and be educational.
Despite his age, he still spends most of his time working. He does, however, worry about “the increasing amount of competition for illustrated children’s books, such as video games and the Internet.”
An exhibition of Mr. Burningham’s paintings and drawings is being held at Sungkok Art Museum, in Jongno, Seoul, until Sept. 3. For more information, visit www.sungkokmuseum.com.

by Ki Sun-min
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