Four years after Penguin Books had been founded by Allen Lane, the idea for Puffin Books was born in 1939 when Noel Carrington, at the time an editor for Country Life books, met him and proposed a series of children’s non-fiction picture books, inspired by the brightly coloured lithographed books mass-produced at the time for Soviet children. Lane saw the potential, and the first of the picture book series were published the following year. The name “Puffin” was a natural companion to the existing “Penguin” and “Pelican” books. Many continued to be reprinted right into the 1970s. A fiction list soon followed, when Puffin secured the paperback rights to Barbara Euphan Todd’s 1936 story Worzel Gummidge and brought it out as the first Puffin story book in 1941.
The first Puffin editor, Eleanor Graham, saw the imprint through the 1940s and the struggles with paper rationing, and in the 1950s Puffin made its mark in fantasy with tales such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Some other notable titles whose paperback rights were acquired by Puffin included The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett, the first children’s fiction title to depict a working-class home, which Puffin published in 1942, the Professor Branestawmbooks by Norman Hunter (1946), Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1949), Carbonel: The King of the Cats by Barbara Sleigh (1955), and The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (1960). Many different genres featured in the list, e.g. The Puffin Song Book (PS 100), 1956.
1960s to 1970s
In 1961, Kaye Webb became Puffin’s second editor, as a boom began in children’s publishing, and in a decade the Puffin list grew from 151 titles when she took over to 1,213 in print by 1969. Puffin obtained the paperback rights to many of the best writers of the time, including Philippa Pearce, Rosemary Sutcliff, William Mayne and Alan Garner, all-time classics including Mary Poppins, Dr Dolittle and The Hobbit, and originals such as Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The books were promoted with flair through the Puffin Club, started by Kaye Webb in 1967 with the promise to Allen Lane that “It will make children into book readers”. Though by 1987, it had become uneconomical and evolved into the schools-only Puffin Book Club, at its height the club had 200,000 subscribers and held regular Puffin Exhibitions, and its magazine Puffin Post appeared quarterly for many years, resuming publication in January 2009.
Colony Holidays (predecessor to ATE Superweeks) ran Children’s Literature Summer Camps for members of the Puffin Book Club. Fifty or so children from all over Britain who loved reading would spend a ten-day holiday together, and popular children’s authors such as Joan Aiken, Ian Serraillier and Clive King would spend a few days with them. Webb continued as editor until 1979, and the 1970s saw Puffin further advance its position with hits such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and Watership Down by Richard Adams.
The range of Picture Puffins, introduced in the late 1960s for younger children, also developed rapidly. Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum became and have remained firm children’s favourites, as have Eric Hill’s Spot the Dog and Jan Pienkowski’s Meg and Mog books from the 1980s.
1980s to 1990s
The 1980s saw Puffin taking full advantage of popular culture with film tie-in publishing, forming close links with Disney and other production companies. It was at this time that Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone introduced the concept of adventure gamebooks to Puffin which grew into the Fighting Fantasy phenomenon. The 1980s also saw the launch of the Puffin Plus line of young-adult fiction, a market earlier catered for by the imprint Peacock Books. In 2010, the young adult line was relaunched as Razorbill.
The 1990s continued to see new writers join Puffin and in the 21st century the brand still shows heroes and heroines familiar with children such as Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, Max Gordon, Mildred Hubble and Scarlett, while stars such as Kylie Minogue and Madonna have written for Puffin