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.
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.
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, 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.