Puffin celebrates 80 years

Eighty years ago, during World War II, Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, wanted to provide books to support evacuated children adjust to country life. These non-fiction titles, such as War on Land by James Holland were so successful that a year later, they were followed by four story books, including Worzel Gummidge.

Legendary editor Kaye Webb, founded the Puffin Club in 1967, which grew to have 200,000 members. In 1978, the Puffin Time Capsule was buried, containing a copy of Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams. The message she wrote inside will be read for the first time when the capsule is dug up in 2078!

Those original four books have since been followed by some of the most iconic and classic titles and authors in the children’s book world, including work by ten Children’s Laureates.  Puffin is internationally recognised  for books such as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Roald Dahl’s The BFG; 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 home to talented new voices, such as Tom Fletcher, Nadia Shireen, Vashti Harrison, Robin Stevens and Sam Copeland. Much like their mission during World War II, in 2020, Puffin aims to make books as accessible to as many children as possible during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

With the world again facing unprecedented circumstances, schools closed and children being home schooled, Puffin are again offering support, albeit in very different ways. These range from online storytimes to podcasts, working with BBC Bitesize and a restructured Puffin Schools website. The centrepiece is the Puffin Festival of Big Dreams. This was held over the week of 8 to 14th June, in partnership with Waterstones, with over 250,000 people tuning in.


Hosted each day by Blue Peter presenter Radzi Chinyanganya, multi-talented authors and illustrators, inspired children to make puppet theatres, investigate their family history and try out their own sketches after viewing virtual drawing contests. Every event aimed to leave children with an idea to try out and keep their imaginations dreaming long after screen-time was over.

Festival highlights included:

  • Jeff Kinney offered a ‘Wimpy Kid’ Studio Tour, whilst Jacqueline Wilson read ‘The Worst Thing about My Sister,’ as voted for by viewers

  • Robin Stevens ran a live and interactive mystery making workshop

  • Lucy Hawking hosted an intergalactic-ly awesome space quiz

  • Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola organised the first ever ‘Rocket Draw-Along’, whist Carrie Hope Fletcher and Rashmi Sirdeshpande offered special readings

  • Illustrator Nick Sharratt got into the festival spirit by listening to viewers’ dreams and making them come true! Spectacular creations included a marshmallow bed, a sloth dinner party and a house made of cheese! 

  • A ‘birds eye view’ of the Coquet Island Puffins with the RSPB and the announcement of the Puffin and National Book Tokens Big Dreamers Writing Prize


Each day, children were invited to submit their own dreams to the festival, for the chance to have their dream turned into an illustration by Nick Sharratt. Three dreams were drawn every day and were assembled into The Puffin Collage of Big Dreams, to show just how amazing the viewers’ imaginations are. Over 500 hundred dreams were submitted in total throughout the week, from houses of cheese to karate champions, edible books and sloths at the dinner table - proving that children’s imaginations are unstoppable.


All 12 of the Puffin Festival of Big Dream events are available to watch again on Puffin’s YouTube (@PuffinBooks1) and Facebook (@PuffinBooks) channels and at www.puffin.co.uk/DreamBig


Francesca Dow, Managing Director of Puffin since 2002 said: “Never have stories and the power of the imagination been so important, than in this time of enforced isolation. A book, a story, can help children escape their kitchen or their bedroom and explore new worlds of adventure, make them laugh, introduce them to new friends, learn about the world beyond their four walls, during school, bookshop and library closures. We know how much joy reading can bring and that’s why Puffin will do everything to ensure that children have all they need during this time to continue in their discovery and love and sharing of books, and to Dream Big.”

The Puffin Book of Big Dreams

A collection of stories to mark Puffin’s 80th birthday and embodies Puffin’s past, present and future, bursting with over 40 new and imaginative stories, poems and illustrations from a diverse range of beloved Puffin authors and illustrators old and new. You’ll also find an assortment of carefully curated classic family favourites to rediscover. From caveman-inventors to genius chickens, magical phoenixes to cheesy elephants and environmental clear-ups to the Notting Hill Carnival, the amazing stories and poems featured in The Puffin Book of Big Dreams all tackle the theme of dreaming big. Some of these dreams are big, some small, some are wild and fantastical, and some are full of love, hope and kindness.

Article by Jayne Gould

Puffin is celebrating 80 years of inspiring children to dream big in 2020 with a variety of activities, initiatives and publishing, including the release of The Puffin Book of Big Dreams, out now. For further details please visit www.puffin.co.uk/DreamBig and follow Puffin’s social channels for regular updates: Twitter/Facebook: @PuffinBooks | Instagram: @puffinbooksuk | #PuffinDreamer.