Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration

Parents, carers and children themselves will be familiar with the rotund babies and gloriously galumphing toddlers who grace the pages of Helen Oxenbury’s books for the youngest readers, and her illustrated Alice in Wonderland will have been the introduction for many readers to Carrol’s classic. Yet Oxenbury’s is a name that somehow hovers under the radar when conversations turn to picturebooks, even though she has created some of the best known – and most loved – picturebooks of the past fifty years. So, it is all the more thrilling to see her celebrated in this gorgeous, beautifully designed and informative tribute to an artist who has done so much, and especially in the year in which she is UK IBBY’s nominee for IBBY’s Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Illustration.

Marcus traces Oxenbury’s life as an illustrator with elegance and insight; almost every opening displays examples of Oxenbury’s brilliance – some spreads are entirely visual – and the concluding pages contain warm reflections from some of the authors whose work she has illustrated, including Martin Waddell, Trish Cooke, Michael Rosen.

Implicit too is an account of the expansion of publishing for children in Britain, since Oxenbury began her career at a time of development in illustrated book technology, and when publishers were beginning to recognise the growing possibilities of the market for children’s books. Approached in 1978 by Sebastian Walker, founder of Walker Books, Oxenbury’s career has been intertwined with the company since then, including her creation of the familiar Walker Bear logo.

This magnificent production is indeed a fitting tribute to a creator of outstanding picturebooks.