Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski


Jan Pienkowski has twice been the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal.  The first time was in 1971 for his classic collaboration with Joan Aiken – The Kingdom Under the Sea. The second was in 1979 for his delightfully quirky pop-up book Haunted House.

When you think of Pienkowski it’s probably his glorious and intricate silhouettes that first spring to mind, but they represent only one facet of his work: he’s also the illustrator of the Meg and Mog books and the author/illustrator of a series of pop-up books, of which Haunted House is probably the best known.

A whole generation grew up with it in the 1980s and, retaining fond memories of it, they’re now buying the new edition to scare their own children silly – but in the nicest, safest way possible.

By modern pop-up book standards, Haunted House is quite basic. The ‘paper engineering’ (by Tor Lokvig) is very simple, especially when compared to the work of someone like Robert Sabuda, but this is not a book designed for adults to show to children with the admonition “Look but don’t touch” –  it’s made for small hands and curious minds to explore by themselves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a very simple, albeit slightly subversive, narrative running along the bottom of each page: a doctor is visiting the house and being led through the rooms while his patient/host complains that he has no appetite, can’t settle, never has visitors, and can’t sleep.

In each of the six pop-up scenes there are wheels to turn, levers to pull, doors to open and flaps to lift – carefully. Eyes roll, a crocodile rises from the bath, a huge bat emerges from the attic, the bottles in the kitchen cupboard change colour and content (none of it in a good way) – and even the flying ducks on the wall flap their wings.

It’s all good, old-fashioned harmless fun, suffused by Pienkowski’s trademark wonky humour: two mice unconcernedly going about their daily business on each page oblivious to the weirdness going on around them, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         an octopus doing the washing up, a spaghetti monster in the fridge, the occupant of an alien spaceship crashing through the bathroom wall …  It comes, however, with a caveat: the scene in the bedroom could quite genuinely give an impressionable child the screaming meemies, with a simple but effective ‘reveal’ of a ghost and something nasty lurking in the wardrobe.

It is probably not, therefore, a book for a small child to look at alone, but with an adult reassuringly present for the scarier bits.

You can always hide behind each other.


Walker Books.  2005.  ISBN: 978-1844288748.  12pp.

9 comments on “Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski

  1. annebrooke
    October 31, 2012

    Sounds fabulous, Moira! I’d definitely hire an octopus to do my washing up, and the spaghetti monster in the fridge would be charming! 🙂

  2. Kate
    October 31, 2012

    I well remember the shame I felt when on reading Haunted House for the first time, i tore the lower duck off the wall … and it wasn’t my copy. Her mother was miffed, but I still loved the book and kept borrowing it.

  3. Jackie
    October 31, 2012

    This sounds kinda cute, except for the scary bedroom scene. I can see the mice in the pics you showed, that would be a cute side story. That is one busy kitchen!
    While the style is quite different from the author’s other books you’ve profiled, the many details & intricacies of of the illustrations show his hallmarks.

  4. Stevie Carroll
    November 1, 2012

    That looks splendid.

  5. Hilary
    November 1, 2012

    What great fun for the season! Thanks for reminding me of this, Moira. I love the idea of mouse-spotting in the different illustrations – that sort of game used to delight me when I was small.

  6. Janet McDermot
    April 10, 2014

    Query to Jan Pienkowski about permission for use on website.
    NB We couldn’t find another email contact for Jan Pienkowski
    Hi Jan,
    We are a not for profit organisation in Ireland called the National Adult Literacy Agency (, and we have a website for parents and children (www, which encourages parents to help their child learn. We are admirers of your work, and we would love to create a link to your ebooks. In particular we were looking recently at the book “Farm”
    Could we create a link to that book and others in the future?
    If this is an incorrect email for this purpose, could you re-direct us.
    Many thanks,
    Janet McDermot

  7. Pieńkowska
    July 12, 2014

    Query to Jan Pienkowski about permission for use his photo. I couldn’t find another email contact for Jan Pieńkowski.


    In behalf of Emigration Museum in Gdynia (Poland) I would like ask you about
    your photo collection.
    For emerging main exhibition of museum I search your photos which will be show in “UK careers”. This part of exhibition will show famous UK people with
    polish provenence.

    Do you have photos and copyrights for it? Could you send me few
    photo for choice?

    And if we’ll chose some, how is the cost of good quality scan (600 DPI) and

    If you don’t have photos (or copyright) could you help me and contact with
    somebody who have it?

    Thanks for your help.

    Olga Pieńkowska

  8. Moira
    July 12, 2014

    Dear Olga (and, belatedly, Janet) … I’m afraid we don’t hold the copyright for Jan Pienkowski’s illustrations. I’ve had a hunt around on the internet and – extraordinarily – have failed to identify his agent. If, however, you have access to … you’ll find him in London.

  9. Laurel
    December 5, 2014

    I have long been a big fan of Jan P.’s Haunted House…but only recently while reading it to my little ones did I notice it’s the mice who are talking to each other. You can clearly see one is the nervous inhabitant of the house, the other is “Doctor” listening to the complaints…and the cat peeping at them at each page, and rubbing its full belly on the last page with only one mouse left yelling, “Doctor where are you?!” 🙂

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2012 by in Entries by Moira, Fiction: children's, illustrated and tagged , , , , .



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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