Growing up in Ipswich, England, Helen Oxenbury loved nothing more than drawing. As a teenager, she entered art school and basked in the pleasure of drawing, and nothing but drawing, all day. During vacations she helped out at the Ipswich Repertory Theatre workshop, mixing paints for set designers. It was there that she decided her future lay in theatre design. While studying costume design, however, Helen was told by a teacher, “This is hopeless, you know. You ought to go and do illustrations – you’re much more interested in the character, and we don’t know who’s going to play the part!”
Sets and scenery, not books, remained Helen’s preoccupation for her early adult life as she embarked on careers in theatre, film, and TV. After marrying John Burningham, another of the world’s most eminent children’s book illustrators, and giving birth to their first child, at last she turned to illustrating children’s books. “When I had babies,” Helen says, “I wanted to be home with them and look for something to do there.” Helen and her husband make their home in London, where the she works in a nearby studio. She is also an avid tennis player.
Today, Helen is among the most popular and critically acclaimed illustrators of her time. Her numerous books for children include the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; Smarties Book Prize-winning Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell; We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen;Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, written by Mem Fox, as well as her classic board books for babies. And what does she love most about her work? Thinking up new ideas? Seeing the finished book? Not at all. For Helen, “The best part is when I think I know what I’m doing and I’ve completed a few drawings. In fact, when I get about a third of the way through, and I feel I’m on my way, then I’m happy. It’s like reading a good book – you don’t want it to end.”