Jan Pieńkowski, well-loved illustrator, and author of over 140 children’s books, has died at the age of 85.
Pieńkowski is perhaps best known to many as the illustrator of the Meg and Mog pop-up books written by Helen Nicoll.
The artist and writer had been living with Alzheimer’s over the past few years. His death on Saturday was confirmed by Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s Books.
He took inspiration from his childhood in Poland and his experiences as a wartime refugee. His silhouette styling taken directly from his experiences as a wartime refugee where a soldier had entertained him with paper cut-outs.
Pieńkowski said in an interview that his collaborations with Nicoll and Joan Aiken gave him ‘the opportunity to turn monsters from his childhood into harmless toys’.
“Jan was one of the great storytellers: an exceptionally talented creator, who was led by what interested him, and who treated children as his equals,” Francesca Dow said.
“There was an impatience and wonderful curiosity to him, as he looked for new ways to tell stories: drawing on his Polish roots with his cut-out and silhouette work; his extraordinary use of colour; his pioneering interest in drawing on the computer; and of course his award-winning pop-ups which challenged publishers and printers to find new ways to create his books.”
She added how the artist “achieved the near-impossible: simple, magical storytelling, which is why his books – such as my personal and our family favourites, the brilliant Meg and Mog stories – endure. I was very lucky to have had the chance to know him and to work with him.”
After Meg and Mog author Helen Nicoll died in 2012, Pieńkowski began working on new books David Walser, his civil partner who is also a talented artist, writer, and musician.
David Walser spoke highly of his partner in an interview recently: “One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that Jan never treats children as children. It wouldn’t occur to him to talk down to them, he just behaves perfectly normally … When he works with children, he’s one of them.”
Pieńkowski has been awarded with many honours for his work on children’s books including the 2019 Booktrust lifetime achievement award, and two Kate Greenaway awards, as well nominations for Hans Christian Andersen awards in 1982 and 2008.
Author, and literary award judge, SF 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.”