'He reaches the child in all of us': Authors and illustrators pay tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jan Pienkowski

Published on: 08 May 2019

Updated 21/02/2022

We were heartbroken to hear of Jan Pieńkowski's passing on the 19th of February. In 2019, we awarded him our Lifetime Achievement Award for his pioneering children's books, which have included Haunted House and the Meg and Mog series. Here's what other authors and illustrators have said about him...

Jan Pienkowski has won the 2019 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here, top authors and illustrators share their memories of his wonderful work.

Meg and Mog

S F Said, author and Lifetime Achievement Award judge

In the course of a career spanning half a century, Jan Pieńkowski has made extraordinary contributions to children's literature. His work formed a major part of my own childhood, and 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.

His work is notable for its vibrant originality and inventiveness, passionate devotion to craft, and perhaps above all for the seriousness with which he has always taken his audience. Pieńkowski has produced unique art objects and narratives of lasting value for readers of all ages, enriching our imaginations and our lives, and he is a very worthy winner of the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nicolette Jones, Chair of 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award judging panel

Jan Pieńkowski's romantic and detailed silhouettes, which hark back as far as Asian shadow puppets via the work of animator Lotte Reineger in the 1930s, have brought magic to children's illustration, and enable all children to identify with his characters.

Not only has he been distinctive for this lovely tracery, but he has also been a pioneer of the pop-up book, and in his simply designed depictions of Meg and Mog has created an iconic picturebook series. I am delighted that this Lifetime Achievement Award has gone to Polish-born Pieńkowski, whose 140 books have made a huge contribution to children's art and literature in Britain.

The Glass Mountain

Ed Vere, author-illustrator and Lifetime Achievement Award judge

Loved by generations of children and their parents, Jan Pieńkowski's books are consistently pioneering, intelligent, beautifully considered, and always created with a mischievous sense of fun.

Jan has lived an inspiring life dedicated to making books of the very highest standard. From the fairy tale silhouettes inspired by his Polish upbringing, to the complex pop-ups of Haunted House, to the pure line work of Meg and Mog; these are beautifully designed books which give full credit to a child's intelligence - and understand implicitly how to communicate their story through the pictures. And what beautiful pictures they are... a trove of delights for children to discover!

This award is very well deserved.

Smriti Prasadam-Halls, author and Lifetime Achievement Award judge

Jan Pieńkowski is an artist of rare and breathtaking brilliance. His work makes my heart ache. His graceful figures dance their stories across the page, silhouetted against a backdrop of exquisite, spectacular colour.

Inked in black, they are utterly universal. They are each of us. All of us. When I open one of Jan's books, I belong to the oldest, most wonderful stories ever told.

And within the mysterious filigree magic that he weaves, there is longing, menace, radiance, melancholy, joy and always, always, unspeakable beauty. We are all invited to see ourselves here.

Haunted House

Lucy Mangan, journalist and Lifetime Achievement Award judge

I couldn't be happier that Jan is the recipient of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award from BookTrust - to have had a hand in it feels like some small measure of repayment for all the joy his books and his artistry have given me over the years.

Lauren Child, Waterstones Children's Laureate 2017-2019

I have admired Jan's distinctive and beautiful illustrations since I was a child – from the joyful pen and ink drawings depicting the wonderful Meg and Mog to the exquisitely detailed paper-cuts for his series of fairytales. Most of all, I love the work he created for his series of pop-up books, books I saved up for and treasured.

Haunted House and Little Monsters were both very influential in waking me up to the idea of illustration as a career - they were just such exciting and vibrant books, completely different from anything I had seen before. Jan so deserves to be recognised as an illustrator of huge importance and I couldn't be more delighted that he is being honoured with the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement award.

Chris Riddell, BookTrust Ambassador

Chris Riddell's illustration in tribute to Jan Pienkowski

Michael Morpurgo, BookTrust President

I have been a huge admirer of Jan's work all my adult life. As father, grandfather, great-grandfather, as storyteller and teacher, I have had a lifetime of joy with his books. He has had a profound effect on the lives of millions of children, conjuring up images that capture stories, that captivate readers - young and old alike - and that are never forgotten. He opens hearts and minds, reaches the child in all of us, the important part.

I like him as well because he has an unspellable name, like mine. So I'll stick to Jan, so I won't spell it wrong. Bravo Jan! And, thank you from me, from us, from all the millions who love your books

Laura Dockrill, author

Jan Pieńkowski is a hero of my childhood. He is up there with Dahl, Disney and Coco Pops. His work has a certain quality to it - a mood, a feeling, an experience. The pages come with vivid memories so potent you can almost taste them. They are trips. They are books that you fall into. That stay with you. That take you places.

In The Beginning

James Mayhew, illustrator

Jan Pieńkowski's contribution to books is simply legendary. One of the greatest innovators in book illustration, from astonishing pop-ups to rhapsodic marbling and dazzlingly intricate silhouettes, his work has been hugely influential to other illustrators and has brought joy, enchantment, magic and delight to generations of children. He is truly one of the greats, loved and admired and respected by his peers and adored by book lovers. I cannot think of a more worthy recipient for this greatly deserved award.

Helen Oxenbury, winner of Lifetime Achievement award 2018, along with her husband John Burningham

Before publishers had special departments for children's books, before children's books were considered money-makers, before art directors for children's books were even thought of, John Burningham and I would go to Jan to art direct our new books and design the covers. These were wonderful times. We had such fun, usually quite late at night.

First we had to play a rather bad-tempered game of Monopoly - God knows why! Maybe it revved Jan up for the task ahead. A great deal of wine was drunk and cigarettes smoked - how different now. In the end, Jan would come up with something original and stunning, for both the layouts and cover design. I'll never forget these times.

A Necklace of Raindrops

Jan's sense of design was extraordinary. Eventually this special talent extended to the creation of a greeting card Company called Gallery 5, which revolutionised greeting cards. You would never find kittens in a basket or lurid red roses in the Gallery 5 range. He then turned to children's books. This time his flair for design was complemented by a wonderful sense of colour.

The Meg and Mog books that he created with Helen Nicoll are splendid examples, and they were much loved by my children when they were young. Humour was a great part of his books. He went on to produce hilarious pop-ups and many more books, each generating delight and wonder for a whole generation of children. I'm so grateful to dear Jan, not only for sharing his talent with us, but for his long and unwavering friendship.

I can't think of anyone who deserves this award more than Jan.

Smriti Prasadam-Halls, author and BookTrust Writer-in-Residence 2020-2021

Smriti shared a moving tribute to Jan at the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony in 2019.

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