Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Oi! Get off our Train

Another of those moments where I take sharp intake of breath; 'Almost two months and no John Burningham!'
Goodness me I love his work.
And what a rich and long lasting career: A writer/illustrator whose books had been in print for a while when I was little and who's still publishing new work today.

'Oi! Get off our Train' is not necessarily his best book but it's very essence-of-John Burningham in its themes and contains some of my favourite illustrations.
Grown ups tend to be somewhat abstracted, distant presences in his books which free the children to embark on their own private adventures. In this example, a boy takes off with his pyjama-case dog on his train after lights out. They travel through distant lands encountering a range of animals escaping a variety of eco-perils. Each animal is first refused entry onto the train (hence the title) and then permitted to join the gang once their story is heard. Although the conservation message may be a little heavy handed in execution, the sub-story of the importance of flexibility in friendship and being open to new experiences is surprisingly delicately played. It's a nice tale of the power of the peer group; there can always be room for one more friend.

I like the easy going mucking about that all the train's passengers enjoy as they meander on their journey. They stop to play ghosts in the fog, fly kites, swim in the sea, muck about with umbrellas and throw snowballs. The boy is a responsible train driver though, ensuring his train does not get stuck in the snow and returns him to bed in time for school in the morning. This combination of childhood traits of wild imagination and perfectly trustworthy independent self-motivation I also think very typical John Burningham. Adult readers are gently but firmly reminded that their children are free thinking individuals and not their 'property' for moulding.

The illustrations show off his versatility, combining panels of sparse line and pastel caricature with full page spreads of marvelous dense pen and ink hatching overlaying watercolour. Glorious.

Bill and Eddie often choose this book. I'd like to think for all the well thought out reasons I have detailed above but in truth it's the opportunity to bellow 'OI! GET OFF OUR TRAIN' at regular intervals. Fair enough.

'Oi! Get off our Train' by John Burningham, pub. Red Fox isbn 978-0-099-85340-4
If you are also a fan then don't miss the splendid 'coffee table book' celebration of his career:
'John Burningham' pub by Jonathan Cape isbn 978-0-224-08366-9

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