Monday 30 January 2023

A Farewell to Picture Book Greats : Jan Pieńkowski - Garry Parsons


Jan Pieńkowski

Jan Pieńkowski's illustrative style is immediately recognisable. 

From the bright colours and bold shapes of Meg and Mog to the colourful ink washes and marbled backgrounds of his paper cut-outs and silhouettes.

This post is a personal tribute to a childhood favourite illustrator who made a huge contribution to children's literature. 

Jan Pieńkowski's life journey gives a fascinating insight into his work as an illustrator. 

Born in Warsaw, Poland,  Jan was the only child of Jerzy and Wanda Pieńkowski. 
Living on a farm in rural Poland, Jan describes how he was introduced to the fables of a 'witch' type figure, similar to the Russian fairy tale character, Baba Yaga, by a neighbour who would look after him as a child. 

The neighbour would tell him scary stories which gave him terrible nightmares. The stories she told featured a witch who Pieńkowski dreamt was always chasing him and trying to put him in a pot.  "I think in a way she gave birth to Meg" he said.

The arrival of the Nazi's in Poland in 1939 forced the family to move to Warsaw and from there the family travelled around Europe, including Vienna, Italy and Germany, often living in extreme hardship and enduring the difficult and challenging experiences of being refugees in war torn Europe. 

In his interview on Desert Island Discs with Kirsty Young, Pieńkowski describes how screams and shrill sounds continued to frighten him into adult life. 

In 1946 the family arrived in Britain. 

Pieńkowski did well at school, learned Latin and Greek and went on to study classics and English at King's College, Cambridge. Whilst studying classics he was also busy illustrating for Granta magazine and designing posters for university theatre productions, his characteristic style shining through.

Pieńkowski's creative career moved into greetings card design, graphics, advertising and even drawing live on the popular BBC children's TV programme "Watch!". 

He was soon discovered by London book publishers including Walker Books, first for book covers and then later, children's book illustration where his familiar style became well known to children world wide.

Working with the writer Helen Nicholl, Pieńkowski's Meg and Mog were born. A series of graphically illustrated adventures of Meg, the hapless witch, and her stripy cat, Mog.

Pieńkowski won the Kate Greenaway award in 1971 with the children's book writer, Joan Aiken for The Kingdom Under The Sea, a book of eastern European fairy tales which featured his silhouettes and marbled backgrounds.

For me, the real prize in Pieńkowski's catalogue of outstanding work is Haunted House. A deliciously scary childhood favourite of mine and pioneering pop-up book, full of quirky illustrations and wonderfully original paper engineering.  Haunted House won him his second Greenaway award in 1979. 

Jan Pieńkowski published more than 140 books for children and in 2019 Pieńkowski was awarded the Book Trust Lifetime Achievement Award. 

A wonderfully original illustrator, writer and designer, thank you from me and the millions of others who have enjoyed and continue to enjoy your fun, daring and inspiring work.

See more of Jan's work including his sketchbooks, poster art and graphics here and listen to his interview with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs

                           Jan Pieńkowski, born 8 August 1936: died 19 February 2022.

Garry Parsons is an illustrator of children's books. 


Monday 23 January 2023

A creative writing exercise – The childhood book in your brain by Moira Butterfield

 I am a member of the Scattered Authors Society – a very friendly, relaxed,  supportive and creative UK group run by and for children’s and YA writers. We get together online and occasionally in person – with two weekend retreats a year. These comprise creative workshops of all kinds run by the attendees themselves - and some content from one of the recent workshops is here in this blog. If you live in the UK and you are a traditionally-published children’s author do consider joining. It’s a small one-off payment (about the value of 4 or 5 coffees) and well worth it. You can find out more through the link at the end of this blog.


I recently took part in a weekend retreat run by the Scattered Author's Society and I offered some of this content as a workshop for my fellow attendees. I thought you might like to try some of the writing exercises for yourself. It’s based around books that you loved as a child. These influences can be very powerful for writers, and by accessing them we might find some creative wells, or at least food for thought. Try it for yourself in a notebook one day! 


I thought about doing this when my Mum recently asked me and my sister to sort out our childhood books and take them away from her house (which I suppose is fair enough!). We didn’t have that many books compared to kids today but that was because we were regularly moving. We used the library mostly but the relatively few books that we owned were read again and again and again. And my theory is that these early books lodge in the brain forever – and they might possibly affect our creative life forever – like a sort of flavouring that’s been added to us. 


Obviously illustrations are likely to play a very strong part in our memories, too. They might be very integral to a book but for now we’re going to concentrate on the writing – because if we are writers it’s more likely that the influences we uncover will be writerly ones, perhaps. 


A) Start by doing a warm-up 3 minutes writing about your memories of you reading a book, as a child. Where are you. What are the sounds, the smells? Are you on your own or are there people with you? 


B) Next I want you to think about the plot of the book you’ve chosen and why it appealed to you in particular. (For example, I loved a quest story. Thinking about it, I moved with my family every year or two and I had to regularly find ways to fit into a new place - so perhaps that fed into my love of journey/quest books).


So let’s focus on the plot of the book you’ve chosen. I want you to answer a few questions – just quickly. 


1.    Is your favourite book set in the real world or is it in imaginary realm, or both? 

2.    In the plot of your favourite book, who is the main character.  

3.    In your plot did your character have a family present throughout the book, or not. 

4.    Does magic play a part or is it human agency. 

5.    Write down a location you strongly associate with your book. It might not have a name. It could be ‘treehouse’ or ‘seaside town’ or ‘garden’. 

6.    Write down a certain sound that your book brings to mind. 

7.    Write down a certain smell that your book brings to mind. 


8.    In about 5 sentences or so why do you think that this book appealed to you so much as a child? Nobody else – not why it was popular or whatever – why it chimed with you. 


C) Ok, let’s move on to overarching themes of society.  I’m from a generation born in the 60s – and looking back I can see how wartime was very much a theme of the books we were encouraged to read by adults –and by that I mean good v. evil, monsters at the gates, societal chaos (revolution, perhaps) as a bad thing. There are the out-of-control weasels upsetting the order of things in Wind in the Willows and also the really intense overarching evil of the Hobbit and the moral dangers of the Narnia books. These were all set in fantasy realms – so although they had obvious allegory (to us now) it was filtered – perhaps to make it less awful and scary, perhaps because people didn’t want to talk directly to kids about what had happened – I find that societal connection very interesting. 


Do a little bit of thinking about the overarching themes in your chosen book and whether you think it was of its time. For a minute or two, write down your thoughts about that. 


D)  I want to focus in on the hero or the heroine – or if there is a group of characters choose your favourite. Do a couple of questions to help you focus. 


1.    Is the character human or something else – an animal or a magical being for example. 

2.    Who is your character’s best friend in the book, or perhaps they don’t have one. 


Now spend 5 minutes writing about why you loved this character. 


E) And now think about a scene in one of your childhood book that you remember to this day – the one that made you happiest.  Write down why it made you happy. Or if it’s not one scene then what scenes in general made you happiest? 


And was there a scary scene that was full of peril – that has stuck with you from your childhood books? Or if it’s not one scene then what scenes in general made you scared? What aspects scared you? 


Spend, say, 5-7 minutes writing down what made you happy or scared in these favourite books. 


Do you think you’ve used any of these influences in your own writing? 


Ok. You’re at the end of your peek into your bookish psyche! Perhaps some of the notes you’ve made will get you thinking more about where your influences come from – many and varied as they are – and, who knows, they might trigger something that inspires you. And let us know about your childhood faves in the comments below. 

To find out more about the Sassies go to

Moira Butterfield writes early years non-fiction and poetry and mixes the two and adds in stories and generally tries to push the boundaries of what a kid’s fact book is! Look out for her many books around the world.  


Moira Butterfield

twitter @moiraworld 

instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor

Monday 16 January 2023


As has become tradition, I'm here to mark the New Year by sharing some upcoming picture books titles. So hold onto your library cards and 'to be read' piles... here are 23 picture books publishing in 2023 that caught my eye. 

You can see which texts I shared for 2022 here.

1. DARWIN'S SUPER-POOPING WORM SPECTACULAR by Polly Owen and Gwen Millward (January 3rd)

Learn the funny and fascinating story of Charles Darwin and the ground-breaking discoveries his love of the humble worms led to in this hilarious illustrated book.

Charles Darwin is widely known for his "Origin of Species" book, yet
 Darwin had another great love, and that was for worms.

Told for the first time for children, this is the 
silly and fascinating true story of how Charles Darwin came to discover that the humble earthworm is the most important species on our planet.

Told in a
 humorous and engaging way with non-fiction information on each page to help educate alongside the story, curious minds will love this fact-filled, laugh-out-loud title.


2. SUPERHEROES ALWAYS FIGHT BACK.... (OR DO THEY?) by Kate Thompson and Clare Elsom (January 4th) 

Arthur dreams of being a mega-fast and strong superhero with the ability to fight and banish the baddie next door. But when Grandpa explains that the best superheroes actually save the day by being kind, Arthur realises that we all have a superpower inside and that an act of kindness, no matter how small, really can change the world.

Using lively rhyming text and a fun cast of characters, Superheroes Always Fight Back ...Or Do They? highlights how kindness truly is the most amazing superpower of all.

3. I REALLY REALLY LOVE YOU SO by Karl Newson and Duncan Beedie (5th January)

The hilarious sequel to the bestselling I Really, Really Need a Wee, by dynamic duo Karl Newson and Duncan Beedie, will not disappoint fans of this cute and curious Bush Baby.

 Bush Baby is BACK . . . and has something really, really IMPORTANT to say . . . but how?!

From climbing a mountain, to wrestling with crocodiles, this story is packed with extreme and exciting ways to show a special someone that you love them. But sometimes the simplest way to show that you care is the best way . . .

This fantastically funny story explores all the ways to say “I Love You”. Fans of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram, The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring and I”ll Love You Always by Mark Sperring and Alison Brown will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this fabulous story.

4. SO YOU WANT TO BE A FROG by Jane Porter and Neil Clark (2nd February)

A funny and informative picture book all about fabulous frogs! Have you ever wanted to leap twenty times your own body length?

Can you drink through your skin? How about catching all your food with just your tongue?

Come and join frog club to learn all about amazing amphibians in this funny, fact-filled picture book.

Let Fabio Frog put you through your paces. He'll teach you how to croak, wriggle, leap and catch flies!

Have you got what it takes? With gorgeous, humorous illustrations by Neil Clark.

5. THE BLUE UMBRELLA, by Emily Davison and Momoko Abe (2nd February)

The most magical things can happen even on the rainiest of days...
How many people can you fit under one umbrella? 

It wasn’t even meant to rain the day the blue umbrella turned up, but for the people who used it that day, they found something more than just shelter: something truly amazing had happened. A community had come together, bound by kindness and friendship.

6. THE MEMORY BOOK by Louise Gooding and Erika Meza (2nd February)

"A helpful book for families affected by dementia" - CARERS UK

I love visiting my grandma. We read together, play her piano, feed the birds in the garden and we love looking through her big box of photos . . .

But when Grandma starts to forget who the people in the photographs are, Mum explains that Grandma is living with something called dementia. She says, "Grandma is still the person we know and love, she's just a little different now . . . "

A reassuring story about the love between a little girl and her grandma, with practical information to help young children understand dementia and the changes it can bring.

7. OUT OF THE BLUE by Robert Tregoning and Stef Murphy (2nd February)

ONLY BLUE ALLOWED, by Blue government demand.Anything that isn't blue, by colour law, is banned.In a very blue house on a very blue street, sits a little boy who feels as blue as the world around him. For this little boy has a BIG secret: he loves the colour yellow.In a world where only one colour is allowed, will he be brave enough to tell his dad? And will they be able to defy the rules and create a world where EVERY colour is welcome?
One boy and his dad are about to come OUT OF THE BLUE and into life in technicolour!

8. HOW TO MAKE A STORY by Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez (2nd February)

When Milo decides he's going to tell a story, it seems like a great idea. A story of his very own, made up by him! The only problem is that he's not sure how to start ... or what to put in the middle ... or how to end it.

With a little help from his family and a lot of real-life inspiration, Milo's story is soon off to a flying start. If only his little brother and sister weren't getting in the way. But then Milo learns the most important lesson of all about stories - that they are made to be shared.

9. PLANES, PLANES, PLANES Donna David and Nina Pirhonen (16th February)

Long planes, short planes, stuck at the airport planes . . . which do you like best? Follow fifty colourful planes as they race through the air – soaring, swooping and loop-the-looping! Can you find your favourite?Full of spotting and counting fun, with different planes to follow on each page and an exciting fold-out race at the end, this rhyming preschool picture book from Donna David and Nina Pirhonen has been specially developed to encourage pre-reading skills and expand language and vocabulary. With a super-shiny foil cover and fun read-aloud text, Planes Planes Planes! is perfect for any transport-obsessed toddler!Part of a preschool series from Macmillan Children's Books, Planes Planes Planes! includes reading tips for parents and carers at the back of the book. Fans of this book will love the others in the series: Trains Trains Trains! and Cars Cars Cars!

10. THE EMERALD FOREST by Catherine Ward and Karin Littlewood

One day Orangutan heard a faint noise.
Hardly a noise at all – just a distant droning. Then there was a crash!
Smoke seeped through the canopy…

Orangutan and her family live in a vast emerald forest, bursting with life. She teaches her babies what food to eat, how to swing through trees, how to build a sleeping nest. Life is good… until one day a monstrous machine tears Orangutan’s tree from the ground. The family have to leave the emerald forest – but where can they go to?

This powerful and moving picture book is set in tropical Sumatra, an island that has lost almost half its rainforest cover in recent years. The story graphically describes the reactions of an orangutan family to the destruction of their age-old home, but also shows how wildlife campaigners are bringing hope for the future.

11. MEET THE WEATHER by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin (2nd March)

WHOOOOSH! We're off on an exciting adventure in our hot-air balloon to say hello to all the different kinds of weather that make up our world.

Join in with the rhymes and get ready to meet everything from whooshing wind to bright rainbows and shimmering sunshine. Little ones will be swept away on an unforgettable journey in this striking, action-packed picture book.

This bold, bright follow-up to the acclaimed picture books 
Meet the Planets and Meet the Oceans is packed with gorgeous illustrations of everything from rainy rainforests to snowy mountains and stormy seas. Combining STEM learning with a rhyming twist, it's perfect for all little meteorologists!

12. ALL THE WONDERFUL WAYS TO READ by Laura Baker and Sandra de la Prada (2nd March)

A delightful story by Laura Baker, illustrated with warmth and humour by Sandra de la Prada, that celebrates reading in all its forms.


Books take us on journeys that we can all share,

And give us the power to go anywhere!


So no matter just how, or what book,

or your speed, what I wish for NOW . . .

Is that YOU love to read!


This fantastic book inspires ALL children to find their own wonderful way of reading. Little bookworms who love A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston, Wolves by Emily Gravett and Books Always Everywhere by Jane Blatt and Sarah Massini will adore All the Wonderful Ways to Read.

13. FARUQ AND THE WIRI WIRI by Sophia Payne and Sandhya Prabhat (16th March)

There is not a better smell in the world than Ajee's Cook-up rice. The kitchen fills with the smell of coconut, garlic and spices. Faruq loves his grandmother Ajee, and he loves her cooking. In fact, Faruq would like to cook too - he wants to be a chef, but Ajee says he has to be a doctor like his father.

But one day when Ajee is too ill to make the family feast, with the help of his neighbour Mrs Joseph, Faruq picks some hot wiri wiri chilli peppers and cooks up a banquet. Preparing food for his family fills Faruq's heart with love - and sets a different course for his future.

This sumptuous story celebrates Caribbean culture and food through Sophia Payne's distinct voice that is reflective of her Indo-Guyanese heritage and is brought to life by Sandhya Prabhat's beautiful artwork. It also includes a recipe for Guyanese Lime cookies for you to try at home!

14. MONSTERS IN TRUCKS by Laura Baker and Nina Dzyvulsk (4th April)

Tall monsters, small monsters, monsters here and there. 

Hairy monsters, scary monsters... in TRUCKS everywhere.

Children will love this 
super-fun title packed with hilarious monsters in incredible trucks! Follow the monsters as they build a city and watch out for a monster thief on the loose!

There is plenty to spot on every page, with 
playful, bright artwork and lots of amusing mishaps.

Energetic, whacky and characterful monsters are drawn in a vibrant, contemporary style by Ukranian illustrator Nina Dzyvulsk - spot Grin monster in a forklift truck, Brainy monster busy building, and Jiggly monster who might need the loo!

 simple narrative with fun wordplay and a gentle rhyme is perfect for reading aloud, ideal for preschoolers and early readers as they build up their vocabulary and reading confidence. 

bold, bright and playful book is sure to be enjoyed time and time again by young readers as they are thrilled by the wild escapades of the monsters in trucks!

This is the first in a series, with the second book to follow later in the year.

15. LOVE, THE EARTH by Frances Stickley and Tim Hopgood (6th April)

A poetic, spell-binding message from the Earth directed straight to the reader inviting us all to appreciate the natural wonders around us and to take steps to protect them.

The Earth itself takes the reader on a glorious tour of the wonders of nature, both little and large. 
Love, the Earth is an enchanting story that gives readers the perfect chance to see all the facets of the Earth, its mysteries, its generosity and its unparalleled beauty. It is also a powerful call to arms to look after the Earth in turn.
Combining charming, rhyming text and spectacular artwork, this book is a magnificent celebration of the Earth.

16. GRANDPA AND KINGFISHER by Anna Wilson and Sarah Massini (6th April)

Life-affirming and lyrical, this beautiful picture book celebrates the awesome power of nature, while gently introducing young children to the concept of life and death.

Over the course of a year, a young child and their dog watch kingfishers by the river with Grandpa. As spring turns to summer and autumn to winter, the kingfishers raise a family, while Grandpa teaches his grandchild about the power of nature and the circle of life.

Written in memory of her father, whose favourite bird was the kingfisher, Anna Wilson takes readers on a lyrical journey though a year in the life of a kingfisher family. Stunning illustrations by Sarah Massini bring the riverbank to life in all its glory, while the powerful intergenerational bond between grandparent and grandchild shows that just as spring always follows winter, hope will always return if you know where to look for it.

A positive story about life, death, and being a part of the natural world.

17. ALL THE THINGS YOU WILL DO by Lucy Rowland and Neely Daggett (13th April)

A joyfully uplifting picture book that celebrates YOU - and all the wonderful things that you'll bring to the world.

Sometimes in the mornings when I'm looking down at you, 

I stop and watch and ponder all the things that you will do.

This beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated picture book is full of all the hope and joy that comes with new beginnings.

With an inspiring and encouraging message to help children through life's ups and downs, it's the perfect gift for all children.

18. HOW TO GROW A DRAGON by Rachel Morrisroe and Steven Lenton (20th April)

Join Sarah and Mr Pottifer in their magical plant shop, where fantastical creatures grow from trees!

A story that celebrates problem solving, kindness and resourcefulness.

An unexpected delivery of dragodil seeds provides the perfect chance for Sarah and Mr Pottifer to grow helpful dragon pets for their customers - or does it? It turns out that these fiery dragons are 
not very well-behaved at all... and everything soon spirals into smoke-filled, out-of-control DRAGON CHAOS!

Can Sarah's quick thinking and green fingers save the day?

The second magical adventure from the author and illustrator of the bestselling How to Grow a Unicorn.

19. YOU'RE SO AMAZING! by James and Lucy Catchpole and Karen George (4th May)

When people meet Joe, they often treat him as Amazing Joe or Poor Joe. 

But can't he just be . . . Joe?

One-legged Joe is 'amazing'. He knows this because wherever he goes people always tell him he's amazing. Amazing for sliding down the slide, for kicking a ball . . . even walking to get an ice cream, or even just eating an ice cream. Of course, being Amazing Joe is better than being Poor Joe . . .

A ground-breaking picture book which explores how we respond to disability.

20. SUNNY SIDE UP! by Clare Helen Welsh and Ana Sanfelippo (11th May)

A CBT-inspired novelty book by Clare Helen Welsh, accompanied by beautiful, nuanced illustrations from Ana Sanfelippo. When you change the way you look at the world, the world you look at changes. When you put on your sunny-side specs a bad mood can become a good mood, a goodbye can become a hello, and even the impossible can become possible! But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the sunny side seems far away.

And that’s OK. Sunny things will be there to discover whenever you are ready. This warm and innovative novelty book uses die-cuts and flaps to transform the world around us, illustrating the power and impact that reframing your thoughts can have.

21. A SWIFT RETURN by Fiona Barker and Howard Gray (June)

A Swift Return is a follow up from the team behind 'Setsuko and the Song of the Sea.' This time the focus is on the air rather than the water. A swift falters on her long migration. Can two children clean the air in their city so the swift can continue her journey and return safely next year?

22. SAMMY STRIKER AND THE FOOTBALL CUP by Catherine Emmett and Joe Berger (8th June)

An empowering story about friendship, football, and having the courage to believe in yourself.

Sammy Striker is NEVER found without a football at her feet, and one day at the park, she's spotted by Melissa McDream who coaches the Under 8s National Team! Sammy is a dribbler-extraordinaire, headed straight for the top. But, as the Fotball Cup gets closer, Sammy's shots on goal go a bit . . . wonky.

Will Sammy work out that it's what makes her DIFFERENT that will help them win the final?

23. CAN YOU SEE THE STARS? by Anna Terreros-Martin (3rd August)

Nora and her Puffin love looking at the night sky. But tonight, the moon and stars aren’t very bright, and they’re determined to discover why! 
After rescuing a lost baby puffling and going on an adventure to Puffin Island, they finally understand… 
but they’ll need a bit of imagination to make the star’s sparkle again! 
A beautiful adventure that will make you want to look up at the sky tonight!

There's no doubt that I have missed some FANTASTIC books, so please do add your recommendations in the comments below!