Biographical Information

Sheila Burnford

Sheila Burnford was born in Scotland on May 11, 1919 to Wilfred Cochrane and Ida Philip Every. She was an only child. Her primary school was St George’s School in Edinburgh. She attended Harrogate College in Yorkshire, England. Her collegiate studies also allowed her to study in France and Germany. While her beginnings are in Scotland, she traveled extensively and called North America home for a period of time. She attributed her ability to find solitude with very little privacy to attending boarding schools at such a young age. This helped her greatly as a self-directed writer being able to find solace in a house full of animals and children.  

As a young woman during WWII, she was part of the Royal Naval Hospitals Voluntary Aid Detachment (or VAD) from 1939-1941 in England. She worked as an ambulance driver for a majority of that time. During her time in the VAD she met and married her husband, a doctor, David Burnford in 1941 and continued working as an ambulance driver for another year. Her experience of war and the landscapes of France and England at this time were used as inspiration for her book Bel Ria written years later about an unusual pair: a trained terrier and a capuchin monkey.

It was during her time as a young mother and new bride when her husband David was away to war she acquired Bodger (sometimes referred to as “Bill”) an English bull terrier who became her best companion on the blacked-out nights of war. She would read to Bill from the newspaper in the evenings and talk to him as she went about her chores. She attributed his extraordinary extent of recognition of words and phrases from the years where she had only him to talk to at home as a captive audience. The bull terrier became an inspiration and namesake for one of the main characters in The Incredible Journey she would write years later.

In 1949, David Burnford, a pediatrician, was offered a position in Port Arthur, Ontario. David and Sheila moved themselves and their three daughters: Peronelle, Elizabeth, and Juliet, and the English bull terrier, Bill to Canada. Once all the children went away to school during the day, the family acquired a Siamese kitten, Simon (also referred to as Tao). The relationship between the Siamese cat and the bull terrier was of interest to Burnford as a writer. She found the pair to be uniquely and unusually friendly with each other. She noted the animals began assuming the other’s characteristics while participating in forbidden behavior together such as opening doors with the keen skills of the cat to raid the kitchen of any foodstuffs on the counters. Later on, David Burnford acquired a Labrador to aide him in hunting which was a popular interest for the Burnford family. The addition of the Labrador in the family did not stop the antics of the Siamese and Bull Terrier or add to them as the new dog was trained well as a hunting dog and always followed commands. Though as the bull terrier grew old and began losing his sight the Labrador accompanied him on walks around the neighborhood to assure the old dog could find his way home. This was the animal trio she wrote about in her notebooks and used as inspiration when writing The Incredible Journey.

Sheila Burnford was a constant writer. She wrote short stories and articles for English papers about Canadian living (1950-1960) and wrote plays and scripts for Port Arthur Puppeteers where she received the Ontario Puppet Play Award for her efforts. After receiving the award it triggered her to sit down and finally write the book based on her curious pets: The Incredible Journey.

When The Incredible Journey was first published in England, before it was published in North America, it was considered nonfiction as it was based on real animals Burnford owned. She was pleased and tickled they found her writing so convincing and remarked, “They must have thought the cat kept a diary!” While she did not consider The Incredible Journey to be a children’s book when she was writing, she embraced the popularity of the title with children. The book was not originally promoted or received as a children's book. It wasn’t until the Disney movie of the same name did The Incredible Journey explode in popularity two years after it being published in 1963.

Following her success with The Incredible Journey she wrote a collection of autobiographical essays The Fields of Noon in 1964. These essays mostly centered on her love of the outdoors from walks around the Scottish countryside as a child to fishing trips in the cold Canadian wilderness. Her love of animals continued to shine through into her fiction and nonfiction texts. After that she published Without Reserve (on the Indians of Ontario) in 1969. Next came One Woman’s Arctic which is the account of her personal impressions of two summers (1971-1972) spent on Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada and was in part supported by the Canadian Council of the Arts through grants. She spent the summers on Baffin Island with artist Susan Ross, separate from her family. 

In 1973 she wrote a children’s book called Mr. Noah and the Second Flood about a science fiction pollution cautionary tale, but it was not met with as strong of acclaim as The Incredible Journey. Several years later in 1977 she published Bel Ria, though this time the book with central animal characters was not as approachable for children and was intended for adults.

Before her death in 1984 Sheila Burnford and her family moved back to England. She passed away from lung cancer at age 65 on April 20, 1984.  

Carl Burger

(Illustration by Carl Burger from Old Yeller)

Carl Burger was born on June 18, 1888 in Maryville, Tennessee. He attended Maryville College and Stanford University before transferring to Cornell University where he graduated with a Bachelor in Architecture in 1912. At Cornell, Burger's mentor was noted naturalist Louis Agassiz Fuertes and got him interested in wildlife. Later he attended the School of Museum of Fine Arts for three years. 

Carl Burger was a newspaper cartoonist in Boston for the Boston Post previously to World War I. During World War I he served as an infantry captain in France where he learned to speak French fairly well and picked up a bit of German. In 1920 he married Margaret Rothery and they had one child, Knox Burger. 

From 1920 to 1930 he served as an art director for the N.W. Ayer advertising agency for Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn. This art direction experience helped him become the art director for the American Red Cross in Washington during World War II.  

Carl Burger started illustrating books in 1957 and illustrated four books by other authors before being asked to illustrate The Incredible Journey.  However, he wrote and illustrated several books about animals of his own simultaneously. He was passionate about natural history and contributed to several magazines with articles about natural history. Burger died when he was 79 years old on December 30, 1967. He is most well known for his illustrations for The Incredible Journey, Little Rascal, and Old Yeller


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