Jan Pieńkowski, the beloved illustrator and author of more than 140 children’s books, has died aged 85.
Pieńkowski, whose work included the pop-up books Meg and Mog, lived with Alzheimer’s disease.
Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s Books, confirmed he died on Saturday morning.
Pieńkowski’s work is often inspired by his Polish childhood and his experiences as a wartime refugee. His interest in paper cut-outs stemmed from his stay in an air-raid shelter in Warsaw, where a soldier amused him by cutting newspapers into shapes for him.
Meg and Mog, made in collaboration with the late writer Helen Nicoll, was an illustrated adventure series about an unfortunate witch and her striped cat.
Pieńkowski said in an interview that the series gave him the opportunity to turn monsters from his childhood into harmless toys. He drew his palette from comics such as Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace.
“Jan was one of the great storytellers: an exceptionally talented creator, who was guided by what interested him and who treated children as his equals,” Dow said Sunday.
“There was an impatience and wonderful curiosity about him as he sought new ways to tell stories: tapping into his Polish roots with his cutout and silhouette work; his extraordinary use of color; his pioneering interest in computer drawing; and of course his award-winning pop-ups that have challenged publishers and printers to find new ways to create his books.
Pieńkowski, she added, meticulously pored over every detail “and yet achieved the nigh-impossible: simple, magical storytelling, which is why his books – like my personal favorites and those of our family, the brilliant stories of Meg and Mog – live on.I was very lucky to have had the chance to know him and work with him.
After Nicoll’s death in 2012, Pieńkowski worked on new titles Meg and Mog with his civilian partner, David Walser, a translator, artist, musician and writer.
“One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that Jan never treats kids like kids,” Walser said a few years ago. “It wouldn’t occur to him to talk to them, he just behaves perfectly normally… When he works with kids, he’s one of them.”
British author Ed Vere, who is Walser’s godson, said: “Jan Pieńkowski has lived an inspiring life dedicated to creating books of the highest quality – pioneering, clever, beautifully thought out and always created with a playful flair. some pleasure.”
He added: “Full of love, curiosity, art, thought, fun and laughter. He will be greatly missed, as a man and as a leading figure in children’s books.
For his work as a children’s author, Pieńkowski received the 2019 award Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Awardwhich has in the past been credited to some of the biggest names in children’s books, including Shirley Hughes, Raymond Briggs and Judith Kerr.
Critic Nicolette Jones, who presided over the judges selecting Pieńkowski for the award, said he “brings magic to children’s illustration”, while fellow judge, SF author Said, said: ” Books such as Meg and Mog have shaped so many generations now that they have become part of the fabric of British childhood and culture in general.
Pieńkowski has also been twice nominated in the UK – in 1982 and 2008 – for the International Hans Christian Andersen Prize, the highest honor given to creators of children’s books.
He won the Kate Greenaway Award in 1971 with writer Joan Aiken for their second collaboration, The Kingdom Under the Sea, which included Eastern European fairy tales. He won his second Greenaway Award in 1979 for the spooky pop-up book Haunted House, which demonstrated his gothic leanings.
Pieńkowski was born in Warsaw to a squire father and a scientist mother. He was three years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, forcing the family to move to Europe before finally settling in England in 1946.
In London, he attended Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in Holland Park, where he learned Latin and Greek, before going to King’s College, Cambridge to study classics and English.
He has illustrated for Granta magazine and designed posters for university theater productions. Early in his career, Pieńkowski was employed to sketch live on the BBC Watch children’s show!, before the book world found out.
Along with Meg and Mog and his pop-up books, he is known for his illustrations of fairy tales by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, The Nutcracker and The Mountain of Glass: Tales from Poland.
Fans paid tribute to Pieńkowski on social media following news of his death. Children’s author Christopher Edge wrote“When I think back to my earliest memories of childhood reading, Meg and Mog’s books shine brightly. Thank you, Jan Pieńkowski.
Children’s author and illustrator Shoo Rayner added: “Sad news – Jan Pieńkowski was an inspiration to me when I started.”
The London Review bookshop job: “RIP Jan Pieńkowski – Haunted House is one of the best books in the store, every time a child discovers it while browsing the children’s section, they are blown away.”