Jan Pieńkowski

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Jan Pieńkowski
Born (1936-08-08) 8 August 1936 (age 84)
Warsaw, Poland
OccupationWriter, illustrator
NationalityPolish, British
GenreChildren's literature, picture books, movable books
Notable works
Notable awardsKate Greenaway Medal
1971, 1979
SpouseDavid Walser (2005–present)

Jan Michał Pieńkowski (born 8 August 1936) is a Polish-British author of children's books—as illustrator, as writer, and as designer of movable books. He has also designed for the theatre. For his contribution as a children's illustrator he was UK nominee in 1982 and again in 2008 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest recognition available to creators of children's books.[1][2]

WorldCat reports that Pieńkowski's work most widely held in participating libraries is Christmas, the King James Version (1984; US ISBN 0394869230), a 24-page picture book that "[u]ses the words of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew to present the story of the birth of Jesus."[3]


Jan Pieńkowski was born in Warsaw, Poland. He was 3 when the September 1939 invasion of Poland, a joint invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, opened World War II in Europe. During the war, the Pieńkowskis moved about the continent; they settled in Herefordshire, England, in 1946, where Pieńkowski attended Lucton School. Meanwhile, Jan had illustrated his first book at the age of eight, as a present for his father.

Pieńkowski attended the Cardinal Vaughan School in London and later read English Classics at King's College, Cambridge.

After leaving university he founded the Gallery Five greeting cards company. He began illustrating children's books in spare time but soon found it taking all his time.

In 1968 Pieńkowski began working with children's author Joan Aiken. He won the annual Kate Greenaway Medal for their 1971 book, The Kingdom Under the Sea and other stories (Jonathan Cape), eleven "fairy tales from Eastern Europe and Russia" retold by Aiken.[4] That award by the Library Association recognised the year's best children's book illustration by a British subject. In retrospect the librarians call it "brilliantly illustrated in a highly original and recognisable silhouette style".[4] One year earlier he had been one of three Greenaway runners up for The Golden Bird (J. M. Dent, 1970), written by Edith Brill.[5][a]

Pieńkowski is probably best known for illustrating the Meg and Mog books written by Helen Nicoll, and for his pop-up books including Haunted House, Robot, Dinner Time, Good Night and 17 others.

Haunted House (Heinemann, 1979) earned Pieńkowski his second Greenaway Medal (no one has won three).[6] The librarians describe it as "the house of petrifying pop-ups".[6] The pop-up book was so successful that Intervisual Books Inc. reproduced the book as part of its 1992 Annual Report. The report noted "Haunted House was first published in 1979, and has sold 1,083,366 copies, in 13 languages, to nearly 30 countries worldwide."[7]

Pieńkowski has had a lifelong interest in stage design. He was commissioned to provide designs for Théâtre de Complicité, Beauty and the Beast for the Royal Ballet, and Sleeping Beauty at Disneyland Paris.

In December 2008 he was a guest on Private Passions, a biographic music discussion programme on BBC Radio 3. Published episode notes include the observation that "[h]is musical choices, which all have strong personal resonances, reflect his Polish background as well as his love of both Italy and England." Recordings of two Polish numbers led the program: "Infant holy, infant lowly", a traditional Christmas Carol (lyrics in English translation), and Chopin's so-called Military Polonaise.[8]

In 2019, Pienkowski was awarded with the Booktrust's Lifetime Achievement Award.[9]

Private life[edit]

In October 2009 he was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. During the programme Pieńkowski discussed his childhood spent roaming Europe, his dead infant sister, his bipolarity and his collection of discarded garments (which he wears himself or gives away to charity shops).[10]

He also talked about his 40-year relationship with his collaborator and civil partner, David Walser, whom he met in a pub on the Kings Road in West London. They contracted their partnership in Richmond on the first day this was possible in 2005.[10]

Pieńkowski lives and works in Barnes, London, where he is a patron of the Barnes Literary Society.[11]


  1. ^ Today there are usually eight books on the Greenaway shortlist. According to CCSU, some runners up through 2002 were Commended (from 1959) or Highly Commended (from 1974). There were 99 commendations of both kinds in 44 years, including Pieńkowski and two others in 1970.


  1. ^ "IBBY Announces Winners of 2008 Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Press release 31 March 2008.
      "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  2. ^ "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002" Archived 14 January 2013 at archive.today. The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Pages 110–18. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online (literature.at). Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  3. ^ Christmas, the King James Version in libraries (WorldCat catalog). Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  4. ^ a b (Greenaway Winner 1971). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Kate Greenaway Medal" Archived 16 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine. 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  6. ^ a b (Greenaway Winner 1979). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  7. ^ Pieńkowski, Jan (1992). Haunted House, Intervisual Books 1992 Annual Report. Intervisual Books.
  8. ^ "Jan Pienkowski". Broadcast episode notes (recording not available). Private Passions, Sunday 14 December 2008, 12:00 (one hour). BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  9. ^ Meg and Mog illustrator awarded Lifetime Achievement award
  10. ^ a b "Jan Pienkowski". Broadcast episode recording (45 minutes). Desert Island Discs, Sunday 18 October 2009. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 1 December 2012.
  11. ^ "Jan Pienkowski". Barnes Literary Society. Retrieved 21 November 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • D. Martin, "Jan Pienkowski", in Douglas Martin, The Telling Line: Essays On Fifteen Contemporary Book Illustrators (Julia MacRae Books, 1989), pp. 187–201
  • "An Interview with Jan Pienkowski", Puffin Post (1984 Summer)

External links[edit]