March 26, 2009

Jill McDonald Puffin Illustrator

I thought it may be interesting to post a couple of my favourite childhood books. The Pirates Tale is right up there in the list!

The story was first featured in The Puffin Post in 1968 and was written by the 5 1/2 year old Janet Aitchison.

In 1970 Penguin reprinted it in its on right, as a Puffin Picture book and they said " It contains all the ingredients that one little girl decided she would like to have in her ideal picture book. We hope you will agree that there have never been pirates so bloodthirsty, so ill-fated, or so charming as these".

Its stunningly simple, and charmingly illustrated by Jill McDonald.

Born in 1926 McDonald became the in house illustrator for The Puffin Club from 1967 till her death in 1982. Her art graced the cover of many a Puffin club annuals and remain as bold and fresh today as they did back in the early Seventies. To see more of Jills work head over to The Puffin Club Archive. Thin Puffin has done a sterling job!

Sadly, my copy of Pirates Tale is missing one page, its written so succinctly that the storyline doesnt suffer. However, I do wonder what the missing pictures looks like!


Thin Puffin said...

Thanks for the the kind endorsement my blog - it's wonderful to see these images again.

I visited Puffin books in December of last year to chat about the Puffin Club and other things graphical, and I suggested that 'The Pirates Tale' would be a fantastic choice to reissue as part of the seventieth anniversary publications next year.

Who knows? Maybe another generation can be turned on to this unsung genius.

jonny mendelsson said...

What a wonderful idea! Id love to see the book reissued, then I could find out what happens on the missing pages!

Back in 1992 I contacted Virgin books who apparently owned the rights to the Miroslav Sasek This is series. They just laughed at me, and said given how old the series was there were too many inaccuracies, and no one would be interested anyway!

Needless to say, some years later, they did reprint, and as you say its turned a whole new generation of people on to him.

Do you have a list of other books illustrated by Jill? Sadly, I kept running into the contemporary Jill Mcdonald, when I was trying to find out more.

Thanks for your post,and good luck with all you endeavors regarding Jill Mcdonald.


Hi Jonny
I bought 8 copies of Puffin Post in their plastic wallet yesterday in the Record & Tape Exchange on Berwick St. They date from 1975 - 1981.They look great - you can't tell which illustrations are done by the kids and which are by the professionals.

jonny mendelsson said...

Oooh they sound great! I hope youre going to post them on Nettlesome?

Unknown said...

Hi, Have you found a copy of The Pirates Tale yet? I have one and I'm more than happy to scan the missing pages and email them to you? :)

jonny mendelsson said...

Hi Ollanah.
Thanks so much for getting in touch.
No I havent had the missing pages. Id be delighted if you could scan the missing page/ pages.

Sadly the book has no page numbers, The page before the missing page is a picture of the five pirates, being shot at with arrows. I think theyre being attacked by The King Dwarf, because the next page I have is of a shark ( that looks like a whale)

The page after the missing page starts "The pirate caught the king dwarf and they threw him into the sea"

I do hope that makes some kind of sense. Thanks ever so much

My email address is

belle le triste said...

the pirates died the cat died!

mspicer said...

Jill McDonald was my husband's grandmother. He was really pleased to see her artwork on your blog!

Janet Aitchison said...

Hello Jonny et al,
This is Janet Aitchison, once a five and a half year old aspiring fiction writer, and now a forty nine year old
editor at a textbook company. I was delighted and amused in equal part to come across mention of The Pirates' Tale on this blog. It's so nice to know that this book had enough impact on people that it is remembered affectionately some 40 years later. Of course, I realize it's Jill MacDonald's amazing illustrations that captivated you, and not the story, but your interest is gratifying nonetheless.
You may be wondering why you have not seen any other books by me since this one in the 1970s. I fear I was a one hit wonder whose literary career peaked at five and a half.
I still have some copies of the book and would be
happy to scan any missing pages if these are still

jonny mendelsson said...

Janet thanks so much for getting in touch. Ollannah very kindly scanned and emailed the missing pages, so my copy is now complete. Thanks for the offer though!

I do a little bit of teaching at the local art college, and some time ago I brought the Pirates Tale in, the students loved the simplicity of the text and its directness.I think the ending is poignant and stays with a lot of people. I read the book to my boys, and they loved the book thirty years on!

I was wondering could you tell us a little bit more about your memories of how the book came about; was it a competition? Did you meet Jill? Was there a book launch? Any other information would be much appreciated!

I think Thin Puffin at The Puffin Club Archive would be very interested too.

Anna from Hawaii Kai said...

The Pirates' Tale was a favorite book in our house. Sadly, the softcover book was so worn and falling apart that I unthinkingly threw it out while packing to move house. I wish I had kept it! My now-adult daughter expressed dismay when I mentioned the book and its fate.

bumbu pecel bali said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Glen Mackie said...

Miraculously I still have a copy of this book. My mother kept it for me and now I'm 42 and enjoying re-reading it again (so much so it inspired me to do an Internet search). It was my favourite book as a child along with the 'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek'. No other book made me feel this way when I read it. The illustrations are great, but also the writing - so direct. With plot reversals that are entirely unpredictable, even to an adult. They make it so unique. Thank you for writing it Janet. I have no idea if you'll ever return here to read these comments but whether or not you feel it today, there was some emotion and feeling that came through your words. Obviously someone felt it enough at the time to print the book. I certainly felt it in reading it as a child. If you still have some copies of the book, I'd love to buy one from you. My copy is so worn and torn from reading it so much.

John Gough in Australia said...

Would you like a PDF copy of a scanned version of Jill McDonald's long-out-of-print "Maggy Scraggle Love the Beautiful Ice-Cream Man"?
I was searching the internet for images and materials relating to this book and found very little.
Happily I then found my son's childhood copy, and, before returning it to him, I scanned it for posterity.
Your blog seemed especially interesting, and interested in Jill McDonald, amongst so much more.
If so, please contact me directly via
John Gough (in Australia)

John Gough in Australia said...

You mentioned, at the start of the blog-posting, you were going to mention TWO of your favourite children's books.
Then you talked about the fabulous child-prodigy "The Pirates' Tale" by Janet Aitchison (how marvellous to see her posting, here!!), and illustrated by the marvellous Jill McDonald.
But, did I miss something?
What, please, was the SECOND book you has in mind?

John Gough in Australia said...

The Pirates’ Tale text
By Janet Aitchison (age five and a half)
Once upon a time there were some bad pirates. They sailed to a mountain. They dug in the mountain and found gold and silver. The mountain was a volcano. They saw a bit of volcano then they ran back to their ship and they sailed away to their mountain and hid the gold and silver in their cave and guarded the treasure.
A dwarf stole the gold and silver. The pirates woke up and killed the dwarf. The pirates got the gold and silver and the dwarf’s gold and silver. The king dwarf sent an army to fight the pirates and to hurt the pirates. Who knows which side won the battle? The pirates! The pirates caught the king dwarf and they killed him and they threw him into the sea. A whale threw him up again and the pirates threw him down again. A shark came along and ate him up. The pirates laughed to see the dwarf being eaten up by the shark.
One day the pirates found a crab. It pinched a pirate. The pirates screamed to see the crab. The pirates ran away to the ship and sailed to the mountain and got their guns and killed the crab and the pirates laughed.
One day the pirates found a rat and killed it. The pirates had a cat and the cat ate the rat and the cat died. The pirates looked sad.
A pirate found a house and opened the door and went in. It was dusty. He tidied it and dusted it. The pirate found a mouse and gave the mouse a piece of cheese. The cheese was magic. The pirate said, “Oh dear. The cheese is magic. I shouldn’t have given the mouse the cheese.” The mouse died.
One day the pirates found a forest. The forest was bewitched. The pirates went in the forest. The pirates turned into frogs and leapt about all over the place and croaked, trying to talk.
One day the pirates found some children. The pirates kept the children for their wives to cook for them. The wives cooked nice things for the pirates. The pirates liked the food and ate it all up. The pirates liked the fish best. They caught the fish themselves from the sea.
One day the pirates weren’t very well. The pirates had mumps. They were very ill.
One day the pirates got better and sailed away to the mountain and saw a shark and killed it and the pirates’ new cat said, “Meow meow”. The pirates said, “Be quiet, new cat.”
One day the pirates found a ship. The ship had some gold and silver. The pirates stole the gold and silver. The gold and silver is magic. The pirates died. The cat died.
This was really written by a 5 ½ year-old girl, Janet Aitchison, and later illustrated by Jill Macdonald, for Puffin Picture Books.