Joke van Leeuwen was born in The Hague in 1952 and studied, art, graphic design and history in Brussels and Antwerp. She toured with her own cabaret show until 1985. Her first book was »De Appelmoesstraat is anders« (1978; tr. The Applesauce Street is Different). To date there have been around 50 other books. Among her best-known titles are »Deesje« (1985; tr. Deesje), »Kweenie« (2003; tr. Dunno), »Een halve hond heel denken. Een boek over kijken« (2008 tr. To think half a dog whole. A Book on Watch) and »Toen mijn vader een struik werd« (2010; tr. The day my father became a bush, 2013). Van Leeuwen’s both writes and illustrates her books. Words double as images, images become words, each connected to the other in imaginative ways. Sketches, collages, symbols and designs form parts of a continuum with the text, which switches between monologue, dialogue, descriptions, letters, notes, letter devices and onomatopoeia. Typical of van Leeuwen’s books are topics revolving around the needs and dreams of children. One of her most recent books, »Toen mijn vader een struik werd« can be seen as exemplary of her literary-illustrative work. It is the story of Toda, whose father goes off to an unnamed war to, as Toda puts it, »become a bush« to remain hidden to the enemy. Van Leeuwen has created a clever and hopeful book about war, which is told purely from the point of view of a child and manages to depict the oppressive and hopeless atmosphere of war with simple words. »Toen mijn vader een struik werd« is a timeless, poetic, thought-provoking book about war and what it does to those affected.
Van Leeuwen has received numerous prizes for her literary and illustrative work, including the 1988 Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis (German Children’s Literary Prize) and the first James-Krüss-Preis für Internationale Kinder- und Jugendliteratur (James Krüss Prize for International Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature) in 2013. She was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Astrid Lindgren Award with nominations for the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis in 1986, 2000, 2006 and the present year. Along with her literary output for children as well as adults she also writes plays. Joke van Leeuwen lives in Antwerp.