ORIGINAL POST: Jan Pienkowski’s Amazing Picture Book Illustrations

I wanted to do a few original posts about children’s books I liked.

This one is about a great author and illustrator whose work I discovered just a few years ago, Jan Pienkowski.

I found out about Pienkowski’s stuff when I picked up a copy of his pop-up book ROBOT at a used bookstore a few years ago.

Even my adult friends quickly proclaimed this “the best thing ever.”

What I loved about the book was not just the vivid, surreal, cartoony quality of the pop-up images, but how fully-realized the simple story (a robot writes a letter home to his family, and we see their domestic life) was.

Most pop-up books just have a few images extend off the page a little.  ROBOT went further — images were double-sided, so if you look behind the copy of the letter the mom-robot is holding on the first page, the entire text of the story is written on it!  There are tons and tons of gags hidden in the pages, and that is the kind of thing I love.

Obviously, it’s hard to show a pop-up book on the Internet, but I did find this YouTube video of ROBOT:

And here’s a few spreads from the book:

The book is sadly out of print, but some Amazon sellers have a newer printing available pretty cheap.

I found out that Pienkowski was even better-known for HAUNTED HOUSE, another pop-up book.  This one still shows up in most bookstores, and is great fun to leave lying around at a Halloween party.  People smile and gasp at the clever pop-ups, which have humorously grotesque monsters leaping out at you!

Here’s some images from inside the book, via Pienkowski’s website:

I love the spaghetti monster in the corner.

HAUNTED HOUSE was back in print as of 2005, but seems to be out again — though copies are still on Amazon sellers’ stores.

It also inspired a CD-ROM game years ago!

It’s not as fun as the pop-up book, but I do like seeing his creations come to “life.”

Pienkowski’s also well-known for his uniquely-illustrated fairy tales.

His style combines employs silhouettes for human characters, while putting them against lush, colorful backgrounds.  Some of these have been classic tales he’s adapted himself, while others are done in collaboration with the great children’s author Joan Aiken (THE WOLVES OF  WILLOUGHBY CHASE).

There’s a number of different editions of Pienkowski’s work out, but I recommend really shopping carefully — some of the printings of the Aiken books use a different illustrator, or have black-and-white illustrations only.

I like the B&W and color ones — it creates a certain anonymous effect for the children in the stories, as though this could be happening to anyone, even you.

Also, I love the candy-colored palate from these earlier collections.  It gives the tales a dreamlike quality, vivid and fade all at once.

There is a look back at Pienkowski’s illustrations in this Guardian piece from 2008.

Check his work out — as I said earlier, for kids AND adults, it’s pretty much the best thing ever!

Let me know if you liked this and would like to see more posts in this vein.  I have some other illustrators I want to highlight, along with some oddball books I fondly remember.

Published by Zack

Zack Smith is a writer and journalist. He has written for such web sites and publications as Newsarama.com, the Independent Weekly of Durham NC, Triangle Business Journal, Comic Book Resources and the Lynchburg News and Advance. He has a Master's in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and a degree in English with minors in Film Studies and Creative Writing from NC State University. He also writes children's books.

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