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Helen Gillian Oxenbury (born 1938) is an English author and illustrator of picture books. She lives in North London with her husband John Burningham, another children's literature author and illustrator. She is a two-time winner and four-time runner up for the annual Kate Greenaway Medal, the British librarians' award for illustration.[a] For the 50th anniversary of that Medal (1955–2005) her 1999 illustrated edition of Alice in Wonderland was named one of the top ten winning works.
Helen Oxenbury was born in 1938 in Ipswich, Suffolk. Her father was an architect. From an early age she developed a passion for drawing. On leaving school she attended the Ipswich School of Art as a teenager, and during holidays she worked at a small theatre in Felixstowe and at the Ipswich Repertory Theatre Workshop, mixing paints. She went on to study in London at the Central School of Art and Design (1957-1959), where she met her future husband, John Burningham.
In her adult life she embarked on a career in theatre, film and television. She worked as assistant designer at Colchester Repertory Theatre, and for three years as painter and designer for the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv, Israel. In 1962 she returned to Britain and did some design work for ABC Television and Shepperton Film Studios.
After marrying the children's book illustrator John Burningham in 1964, she turned to illustrating children’s books herself. In 1988 she created a series of books about a mischievous young boy called Tom, and his stuffed monkey, Pippo. She commented that Tom was very much like her own son in his younger years. Like Tom, her son would often blame his misdeeds on an accomplice (the family dog). She continues to illustrate books. Some of her most recent work includes the illustrations for "The Growing Story" in the September 2008 edition of Bayard Presse's StoryBox magazine.
Oxenbury is one of fourteen illustrators to win two Kate Greenaway Medals (established 1955); Burningham is another. At the time, the annual award by the British Library Association recognised the year's best children's book illustration by a British subject; two books were occasionally cited; there was no cash prize. Oxenbury won the Medal in 1969; the two books cited were The Quangle Wangle's Hat, an edition of Edward Lear's 19th-century poem, and The Dragon of an Ordinary Family, a new story by Margaret Mahy, both published by Heinemann. From 1989 to 1994 she was the Highly Commended runner up four times[a] and she won again for an edition of Alice in Wonderland (Walker, 1999). CILIP's retrospective citation says, "More abundantly illustrated than previous editions ... Alice herself is a child of today – casually dressed, personable and spirited." Alice was named one of the top ten Greenaway Medal-winning works by a 2007 panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite.
Oxenbury won two "Emils", the Kurt Maschler Award by the Maschler publishers and Booktrust that annually (1982 to 1999) recognised one "work of imagination for children, in which text and illustration are integrated so that each enhances and balances the other." The first was for So Much by Trish Cooke, one of her Greenaway runners up, and the second for Alice.
Oxenbury also won three Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes (1985 to 2007), all in the 0–5 years category. The Smarties Prize winners were elected by children from shortlists composed by a panel. Oxenbury-illustrated picture books were the overall winners for 1989, We're Going on a Bear Hunt retold by Michael Rosen, and for 1991, Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell, another Greenaway runner up. So Much was the 1994 age group winner.
Farmer Duck was also the 1991 Illustrated Children's Book of the Year (British Book Awards). Tickle, Tickle, written and illustrated by Oxenbury, won the 1999 Booktrust Early Years Award. In the United States, Big Momma Makes the World by Phillis Root won the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, picture books category.
These are all children's books.
WorldCat reports that Oxenbury's works most widely held in participating libraries are three of her Greenaway Medal runners up, all written by other authors: We're Going on a Bear Hunt (1989), Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (1993), and Farmer Duck (1991).