How Puffin’s wartime spirit is keeping kids connected in isolation

Set up to entertain and educate evacuees during WW2, our partners for The Big Issue Spring Kids Cover Competition are marking 80 years of keeping children's spirits up

Eighty years ago, more than 2.5 million British children were packed off to the countryside under the Government Evacuation Scheme. The evacuation started a mere three days before the Second World War broke out in 1939. Unaware of where they were going and for how long, children frantically assembled at their schools and waited to be ferried off by bus, rail and even ship to the surrounding countryside, where it was hoped they’d be out of harm’s way.

The evacuation process was traumatic for most, and many children struggled to adjust to the new, unfamiliar surroundings of living in a stranger’s home, with some even attempting to run away.

Recognising the need for an antidote, Allen Lane, of Penguin Books proposed a series of non-fiction picture books, inspired by similar literature published for Soviet children at the time.

The purpose of these books would be to distract children from the isolation they faced, and to help them settle into their new lives away from loved ones. Allen believed that literature should not focus too heavily on the war efforts, but instead help children to explore the new, natural world around them. Just a year later, in 1940, the Puffin Picture Book series was launched.

The first picture books, such as James Holland’s War On Land were so successful that soon after, Puffin expanded its repertoire to include fiction and secured the paperback rights to Barbara Euphan Todd’s Worzel Gummidge, which was published in 1941.

In the decades that followed, Puffin’s list grew to include some of the nation’s most loved children’s classics, including CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as well as many of Roald Dahl’s celebrated works, such as Matilda, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and his last children’s title, Esio Trot, which was published in 1991.

In 1981, Puffin Editor Kay Webb launched an innovative venture called The Puffin Club which broke down the barrier between authors and young readers. Children were able to interact with their favourite authors through parties, festivals and book-signings which was a first and proved to be a hit with young readers all over the country. At the height of its membership, The Puffin Club had nearly 200,000 members from across the UK.

In recent decades Puffin has become internationally recognised for established contemporary authors, including Jacqueline Wilson and Jeff Kinney (whose Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the biggest-selling children’s book globally), and is also home to talented new voices, such as Tom Fletcher, Nadia Shireen, Vashti Harrison, Robin Stevens and Sam Copeland.

Puffin’s ideals have remained largely unchanged since the first picture books were published eighty years ago. According to Managing Director Francesca Dow, “Puffin’s ethos has always been to put the creativity of children first, publishing stories that entertain, create empathy and inspire children to feel that they can be anything they want to be”.

Much like their mission during World War II, in 2020 Puffin aims to make books as accessible to as many children as possible – amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, many children are affected by the upheaval and subsequent isolation of national school closures, so stories are needed more than ever.

To help families successfully navigate the lockdown period, Puffin has launched a series of free online readings, which were kicked off by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, author and illustrator of the acclaimed Look Up. Puffin Storytime features different authors every weekday at 3.30pm and has attracted more than half a million views across Puffin’s social platforms. There are also illustrator draw-alongs with some of Puffin’s most popular illustrators to help kids tap into their inner creativity, and alongside this, the imprint has launched a brand-new series of the Puffin Podcast presented by children’s author and comedian Humza Arshad.

As part of their 80th birthday celebrations, Puffin are proud to be partnering with The Big Issue to launch a cover-design competition, which will be judged by none other than Puffin illustrator Dapo Adeola.

We want kids to get creative for our first ever Spring cover competition!

Puffin’s MD, Francesca Dow, added: “The Big Issue supports vendors all over the country by creating opportunity, and their values go hand in hand with our own mission to inspire positive change in society through the power of stories, creating more young readers, and with our work in schools. Being creative has never been more important, and we hope that while we’re all in lock-down, you will also support The Big Issue and its vendors across the UK by subscribing to the publication at this time. We very much look forward to seeing your most magical submissions – dream big, and best of luck from Puffin!”

Dapo Adeola’s next book ‘Clean Up!’ will be published by Puffin on July 23. Puffin is celebrating 80 years of inspiring children to dream big in 2020. For further details please visit www.puffin.co.uk/DreamBig and follow Puffin’s social channels for regular updates: Twitter/Facebook: @PuffinBooks | Insta: @puffinbooksuk | #PuffinDreamer