John Burningham’s Latest Picture Book is the Poignant Tale of a ‘Difficult’ Dog’s Last Journey | Picture books
The late children’s author John Burningham’s latest picture book – in which the ‘difficult dog’ Miles sets off on one last trip – has been completed by his friend Bill Salaman and illustrated by his wife, Helen Oxenbury.
Burningham, who died in 2019 at the age of 82, wrote and illustrated some of the 20th century’s most treasured picture books, from Mr Gumpy’s Outing to Granpa. He was married for over 50 years in Oxenbury, whose illustrations adorn picture books including We Go Bear Hunting and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Oxenbury said when Burningham got sick he asked her to finish the book he was working on, Air Miles, for him.
Released on June 17, Air Miles follows on from Burningham’s 2016 picture book, Motor Miles, which recounted the adventures of Miles, a “very difficult dog” who, as Burningham writes, “did not come when he was called out, didn’t like to go for a walk, didn’t like his food. Or the rain. He barked too much and he didn’t like other dogs. Miles is only happy on road trips, and the family neighbor realizes he needs a car of his own.
Air Miles, whose story was completed by the couple’s lifelong friend Salaman, sees the dog getting a little older and not always enjoying the things he did before. “But a new challenge awaits when Miles takes off on one last and wonderful journey,” said publisher Jonathan Cape, describing the title as “a deeply moving book on new horizons and saying goodbye… a picture book of beauty, endless possibilities, and love, which explores loss and grief in subtle and heartwarming ways ”.
Oxenbury said Miles had been the couple’s “much loved but very difficult” Jack Russell. “Thinking about his second Miles story, John fell very ill and realized that he might not be able to finish this book. John asked me if I would finish Air Miles for him. By this point Miles was dead so I thought my contribution could be my tribute to the two much loved men in my life, ”she said.
The book will also include three of Burningham’s illustrations, with his miniature sketches used for the cover pages.
Oxenbury and Burningham, who won the first-ever Joint BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, had previously only collaborated on one title, 2010’s There Going to be a Baby. Speaking to The Guardian in 2018, Burningham said it was “a lot easier if we don’t really do it”. He worked on the ground floor of their house, while Oxenbury had a studio outside. “We can take it in small doses, but if we worked in the same studio it would be appalling,” he said at the time. “The feathers would fly,” Oxenbury added.