Tag Archives: Jan Pieńkowski

The Kingdom Under the Sea

By the time I picked this book up, I’d almost overdosed on myths and traditional stories and fairy tales, but wanted to take a look at The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken and with illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski. I could skim it.

The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken, with illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski

That’s what I thought. It only took me a little of the first story to be hooked. That’s the thing with Joan Aiken. She didn’t do things the way others do them.

To begin with, none of these stories were of the same old, same old kind. Nothing wrong with well known tales, but new (to me) traditional ones are more refreshing. They are all in the same vein that I remember from my childhood collections, but new and very well told.

It’s always the youngest son or the prettiest but poorest girl who are true and good. Why this is so I have no idea. There is a wonderful tale about a poor knight and his many animals. That story didn’t go in the expected direction, and was so much better for it.

Perhaps there is too much killing, even when done by the good characters, but it sort of belongs in this type of literature. (Witches don’t absolutely have to be bad…)

The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken, with illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski

And as if Joan Aiken’s stories weren’t enough, we get beautiful illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski. Many of them are black silhouette ones, which somehow make more of an impact than a colourful and detailed ordinary picture would. You can see the warty, crooked nose of the witch so much better. (Ahem.)

This is the second recent reissued collection by Joan and Jan, and I adore these books. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go shopping again. This is perfect Christmas present stuff.

Play the shape game

This is actually a book which encourages you to draw in it. I should have had one when I was the right age to draw in books.

The age I was when I really did look at the shape – and size – of things. In detail. It was January 5th, 1959 and I didn’t have a toy like these newfangled ‘fit the round peg in the square hole’ ones. Didn’t matter. I had a raisin. And a nostril.

You get the picture?

There I was, sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen of Grandfather-of-witch. It was Twelfth Night and he was babysitting. All the others were out making themselves beautiful for the big dinner and dance that night. I wasn’t invited, as I was only two. And a half. Old enough to be annoyed at the lack of inclusion.

Anyway, I realised that the raisin I held in my hand was just the right size and shape for my nostril, so up and in it went. And that’s all. It wouldn’t come out and Grandfather-of-witch was not happy.

When Mother-of-witch returned from the hairdresser’s we had to go straight out for some emergency raisin-removal by some doctor or other who was still on duty on this public holiday eve. Him and his half dozen nurses who held me down. I’ve never been particularly brave.

But you can’t fault my eye for shape matching.

Play the shape game

Back to Anthony Browne, who came up with these shapes that he asked various famous people to do their own picture from. Lots of authors, as well as actors and other celebrities too numerous to tag here, have drawn and played, all in the name of charity.

A Necklace of Raindrops

Some years ago Daughter begged a copy of Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops from my friend Pippi when we visited her. It was an old battered paperback, and she just had to have it. I didn’t forget about it, but I must admit to not having looked at it carefully enough to realise it was illustrated. Daughter was past needing it reading to her, so I just didn’t get involved.

A Necklace of Raindrops

That’s why I was so keen to see a copy of the book now that it’s being published again. I somehow thought the illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski were new. They are, in fact, original, and were in the 1968 version as well.

Oh, well. This is a lovely book, and two copies can be better than one – old and battered.

I love Joan Aiken, although I’ve not read much of hers for this age range, which is younger than the Wolves Chronicles. There are eight short stories, which are all perfect either to read to a child or to have them read on their own. I was going to say nicely old-fashioned, but perhaps they were simply normal forty years ago. They are the sort of stories we read when I was young.

This is a larger size hardback, so Jan Pieńkowski’s pictures look marvellous. They have that authentic 1960s half modern, half old style feel to them. If you know what I mean?

Nut Cracker

If you are looking for a really luxurious book for Christmas, this must be it. It’s a new version of Nut Cracker with words based on the original German, and illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski. I’ve often seen claims that a book will be an heirloom, and always find it just that little bit over the top. This time I think it may be true. This Nut Cracker is so beautiful that I’d be tempted to keep it out of the hands of little children, which of course defeats the purpose. But what can you do with something so delicate? The final page is a picture of a 3D snowscape, and I’d rather not think of the work that went into making it.

Nut Cracker

I don’t actually know the story all that well. We have a rather dreadful cartoon video of it, that used to get watched far too much, many years ago. But this is something totally different, and even the plot seems new. It still doesn’t make complete sense to me; are they people or are they puppets, or a little bit of both? But I finally have an explanation to the what and the why, which used to puzzle me.

It’s also a bit scary, but perhaps the sheer beauty of the book compensates for any fright caused.