Jan Pienkowski honoured with BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award

Published on: 09 May 2019

Jan Pienkowski, the award-winning Polish-born author and illustrator, famous for his iconic Meg and Mog books, has been awarded the 2019 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award.

The BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates the body of work of an author or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to children's literature. The award has been running since 2015 to recognise an author or illustrator's lifetime of work. Previous winners include Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr, Raymond Briggs, Helen Oxenbury and the late John Burningham, who were awarded the first ever double prize in 2018. 

Jan Pieńkowski, aged 82, was born in Poland in 1936 and spent his early years there and in Bavaria, Vienna and Italy before arriving in England at 10 years old. 

Jan is renowned for being one of the greatest innovators in book illustration, particularly for his signature silhouette cut-out illustrations and his pioneering pop-ups. His books tread the perfectly fine line between being slightly frightening but also humorous and fun. Jan says: 'It’s ok to have scary books, as long as you’re tucked up in bed, because it’s a safe distance.'

More about the Lifetime Achivement Award

Pioneer of the pop-up

Jan credits his country of birth as one of his main influences. A lot of his work can be traced back to traditional folklore, including the Slavic witch Baba Jaga, who Jan cites as the likely inspiration for his character Meg. His recent book The Glass Mountain: Favourite Tales from Poland, written by David Walser, is illustrated entirely in traditional Polish style with scissor-cut paper, echoing stories told him as a young boy in wartime Poland.

Jan is also recognised as one of the pioneers of the pop-up book, in particular the picture book Haunted House, for which he holds a second prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal. This was the book that brought back the art of paper engineering and led to a worldwide craze for pop-up books.

Jan was awarded his first Kate Greenaway Medal for his silhouette illustrations in Joan Aiken's The Kingdom Under the Sea

Pieńkowski now has over 150 books to his name, including his most prolific artwork for the Meg and Mog series, written by Helen Nicoll (until her death in 2012) and David Walser.

Check out this list of our favourite Jan Pienkowski books

Helping to make sense of the world

Jan says his fondest memory is of his mother reading to him when he was four years old, often after lunchtime when they were relaxing in a hammock.

On discussing the importance of children’s books, Jan observes 'it’s their first experience of culture and it helps to open their minds. It can be incredibly influential in the early years and gives them building blocks to make sense of the world.'

Jan’s partner and collaborator author David Walser said of Jan being recognised for a lifetime of achievement:

'I think it’s wonderful that Jan has won the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s an exceptional children’s artist and writer and he’s given a huge number of children a lot of pleasure and perhaps it will go on after we’re all dead. I’m so glad this recognition has come in time.'

Read our interview with Jan Pienkowski

Childhood joy of Meg and Mog

The judges for the 2019 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award are children’s picture book writer Smriti Prasadam Halls, journalist Lucy Mangan, writer S F Said, author and illustrator Ed Vere, and journalist, critic and chair of the panel, Nicolette Jones.

Diana Gerald, BookTrust's CEO, said:

'A very well-deserved win for an incredible lifetime of work. Jan Pieńkowski has been hugely influential in the children’s books world and continues to delight and entertain children to this day. We’re honoured to award Jan with the 2019 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award.'

Nicolette Jones, Chair of the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award, said:

'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 picture book 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.'

Francesca Dow, Managing Director at Penguin Random House Children’s, said:

'We could not be more delighted to see Jan honoured in this way for a lifetime of incredible creativity. From innovating pop-ups, to creating well-loved characters, to the most intricate paper-cut illustrations inspired by Polish folk art from his homeland, Jan’s is a career which has brought wonder and pleasure and beauty to so many lives.
'Meg and Mog, for me, encapsulates childhood – noises, surprises, fun and love rolled into a simple read-aloud exuberant book (or books, luckily for us!).
'We are very proud to have just published in March Jan’s latest picture book, written by David Walser, The Odyssey, and prouder still to have been part of his publishing journey for so long. Heartfelt congratulations to a very special creator and person.'

Hear from authors and illustrators paying tribute to Jan Pienkowski

Download the full press release (.docx, 948 KB)

Lifetime Achievement Award 2019

The BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a children's writer or illustrator whose body of work, in the opinion of the panel of judges, merits recognition for a lifetime's achievement in children's literature.

More about the award and this year's winner