It was completely by accident that I discovered how fantastic Meg, Mog and Owl are. I now adore the bright, clashing colours and simple, childlike illustrations. But I initially found these unattractive and decided I didn’t like the books, without ever reading them properly.
Luckily, we found a tattered copy of Meg’s Eggs in the lending library of a local café one day. As we leafed through it, my then almost-two-year-old fell in love with Meg, Mog and Owl. And so did I.
Meg is a slightly incompetent witch whose spells never quite go to plan. The results are often disastrous and always hilarious. Meg lives with her friends Mog and Owl. Mog is a cat and, as you may have guessed, Owl is an owl.
In this story, Meg casts a spell to make eggs for supper. Unfortunately, what emerges from her cauldron is enormous and inedible, so Meg, Mog and Owl go to bed hungry. They don’t realise that even hungrier dinosaurs are about to hatch from the eggs!
There are so few words on each page that you could read this to a very young child. The contrasting colours, strong lines and striking shapes appeal to babies and toddlers. As the images convey so much humour and action, there is plenty to interest older children too.
The narrative could be understood based on the illustrations alone, especially through the body language of the various characters. The pared-down text and speech bubbles offer unlimited opportunities for parents and children to ad-lib and embellish as the books are read aloud.
These are excellent stories for anyone whose first language isn’t English. They are also perfect for children who are beginning to read by themselves. It's no wonder Meg, Mog and Owl have stood the test of time; Meg's Eggs was originally published in 1972.
The author and illustrator used to meet in a petrol station halfway between their homes to collaborate on the stories. After learning more about this team, they seem fascinating and worthy subjects of books themselves.
Helen Nicoll worked in television for years and was a pioneer in the field of audio books. She established her own audio book company and secured the audio rights to Harry Potter before he was famous. Nicoll also persuaded a very reluctant Stephen Fry to narrate, which helped shape Harry Potter’s image.
Jan Pienkowski was born in Warsaw and was just three years old when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. During World War II, his family lived in Bavaria, Vienna and Italy before settling in England.
Pienkowski was awarded the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 for his contribution to children’s literature. Here's an interview with Kirsty Young for BBC Radio 4, in which he mentions his unusual childhood and his experiences with bipolar disorder.
If you enjoy this story, there are lots more just as exciting. You can follow Meg, Mog and Owl as they go to school, embark on nautical journeys, camping trips and even venture into outer space. Here’s a list of all the Meg, Mog and Owl books currently in print, including some omnibus editions.
The books are stand alone and can be read in any order. The only continuity I have noticed is a miniature Diplodocus from Meg’s Eggs making an appearance in the garden of Meg’s Veg (see below).
Francesca Dow, Managing Director at Penguin Random House Children’s, says the series: "encapsulates childhood – noises, surprises, fun and love rolled into a simple read-aloud exuberant book.” And she's right!
These cheerful books and the zany exploits of their eccentric characters are enormously entertaining. We've read almost all of the stories and return to them again and again. If you have a favourite Meg, Mog and Owl adventure, let me know.
Title: Meg's Eggs
Author: Helen Nicoll
Illustrator: Jan Pienkowski
Publisher: Puffin Books (Penguin)
Publication Year: 1972