'He has brought magic to children’s illustration', say judges; previous winners of award include Judith Kerr, Raymond Briggs and Helen Oxenbury
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 is given to an author or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to children's literature;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.
Pienkowski, 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.
Pienkowski is regarded as one of the greatest innovators in book illustration, particularly for his signature silhouette cut-out illustrations and his pioneering pop-ups. His books tred the fine line between being slightly frightening but also humorous and fun. He said: "It’s ok to have scary books, as long as you’re tucked up in bed, because it’s a safe distance.”
According to a statement from BookTrust: '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 – 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 war-time Poland.
'He is also recognised as one of the pioneers of the pop-up book, in particular the picture book The 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.
'Pienkowski now has over 150 books to his name, including his most prolific artwork for the Meg & Mog series, written by Helen Nicoll (till her death in 2012) and David Walser.
On discussing the importance of children’s books, Pienkowski 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."
Pienkowski’s partner and collaborator author David Walser: "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."
The judges for the 2019 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award were children’s picture book writer, Smriti Prasadam Halls, journalist Lucy Mangan, writer SF Said, author and illustrator Ed Vere, and journalist, critic and chair of the panel, Nicolette Jones.
Diana Gerald, ceo, BookTrust, said: "A very well-deserved win for an incredible lifetime of work. Jan Pienkowski 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 said: "Jan Pienkowski’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 Pienkowski, whose 140 books have made a huge contribution to children’s art and literature in Britain."
Francesca Dow, managing director, 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."
Pictured: Jan Pienkowski at his home in London (credit David Bebber)