A Profile of Andrea Davis Pinkney

pinkneygroupphoto 550x377 A Profile of Andrea Davis Pinkney

From left: Dobbin Pinkney, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, and Phil Davis Jr.

“My Word-y Wife” by Brian Pinkney

When I met Andrea in 1986, I immediately knew she would be my wife. Andrea is a phenomenal combination of self-disciplinarian and joy-seeker. When it comes to writing, her focus is razor-sharp. When it comes to having fun, she finds pleasure in paddling her kayak, or sitting in the first row at a Broadway production, or traveling to far-off places.

No matter where Andrea is, she’s writing. During the creation of Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, Andrea and our daughter, Chloe, were on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Turkey and Greece, enjoying a mother-daughter vacation. There was very little electronic capability out in the ocean, but I still received e-mail attachments from Andrea with Hand in Hand chapters that came streaming in at all hours.

Andrea loves being surrounded by beauty, with her hot tea and her 
BlackBerry. These are the tools that help her tell stories that celebrate the African American experience. Andrea is fiercely committed to using words to bring history to young people. And, oh, how Andrea loves words!

On our first few dates we went to many museums and restaurants, and we spent hours watching the sun set from the top of the World Trade Center’s observation deck. I learned more new words from Andrea on those evenings than I learned during my whole college career.

Words, words, and more words. And articulate? That’s Andrea. She can describe the subtle flavor of a Meyer lemon down to its very essence, and speak about the emotions she feels when we’re at the Metropolitan Museum of Art standing in front of a Venetian vase.

Collaborating with Andrea is one of the most incredible joys of my life. We work well together — as parents facilitating the growth of our children, and as an author/illustrator team, combining our unique styles to make books that we hope will inspire children.

The love and admiration I have for Andrea is expressed through the portraits and spot illustrations I’ve rendered for Hand in Hand. But there are two more people in Andrea’s life who played important roles in inspiring Hand in Hand’s creation. These are two young black men who see Andrea from different perspectives. One is her brother, Phil; the other is our son, Dobbin. Phil and Dobbin were eager to share their thoughts on Andrea and Hand in Hand.

 

“My Short-and-Sweet Big Sis” by Phil Davis Jr.

Whenever I see my sister’s name in print, it always makes me do a double-take. “Andrea Davis Pinkney” sounds so proper. But my sister is a regular person. She’s one of the goofiest people I know, always cracking jokes and acting silly, especially on holidays when we all get together. Last Christmas when she gave me the newly bound copy of Hand in Hand, I noticed that the book is dedicated to me. It was the best Christmas present I ever got.

In our family we’ve always called my big sis by her middle name — Rae. A name short and sweet. Just like her.

My sister is a poet. I’m a music producer and recording artist who also writes poetry. To craft this profile I decided to take a page out of Rae’s book and emulate what she does in Hand in Hand — kick off with a “hand” poem that gives a snapshot of each person’s virtues. Here’s my version of a Hand in Hand poem about my sister.

Her hands
take a ball and run with it.

She’s the seed planter.

Pressing possibilities into
what others see as dry dirt.

Doubters, step back!

My big sis,
no more than five feet tall,
will set you straight
if you tell her it can’t be done.

From the time we were little kids,
Rae was always doing her thing.

Moved out of the house
as soon as she came home after college.

Ready-to-go Rae.

Forever reaching for the brass ring
while having a blast
on the merry-go-round.

Once Rae nabs that brass,
she shines it up real bright.

Turns it to gold,
then insists on giving it away
to some eager soul
who wants to enjoy the ride
but needs a ticket.

That’s my big sis.

I know,
no matter what,
she’s always got my back.

Love her for that.

“My Weird, Awesome Mom” by Dobbin Pinkney

When I was a little kid, I thought my parents were the weirdest people ever.

On a weirdness scale of one to ten, with the Addams Family being a ten, I voted our family a nine, thanks to my mom. Why couldn’t she be like other normal mothers who do normal things and have normal habits and normal work? My mom writes children’s books. To me, that was the oddest job of all.

When I was in fourth grade, my school asked my parents to come and do an author presentation. I knew my mom and dad visited lots of schools to talk to students. But I sure didn’t want them coming to my school! I begged Mom and Dad to cancel. But the teachers had already made everybody read my parents’ books to prepare for the visit. I couldn’t erase the visit from the school calendar, so the next best thing was to plead with Mom to tone down her presentation, and everything else about herself.

Whenever my mom gets around kids my age, she’s chatty and loud, and talks with her hands, and speaks to my friends like they’re her friends. Even when she’s first meeting kids, Mom talks to them like she already knows them. Like she’s on their same level, not like she’s a grownup and they’re kids. Mom tells students her opinions about things, and asks them what they think about movies and TV shows and books and the news.

Whether my mom is with kids or not, she likes to sing. All the time. On the day she and my dad were scheduled to appear at my school, I was not in the mood to be their son, especially when the students who had never met Mom saw the kind of mother I live with.

When the day came, Mom began her presentation by teaching the group a civil rights song. Then my dad drew sketches in front of everyone to show how he makes his art. Dad’s drawings were cool, but I was dying from embarrassment when my mom ended the presentation in the same way she’d started — by singing a Negro spiritual.

Now I can admit that when I saw some of the boys from my volleyball team, and also the girls who were the most shy, all singing and clapping along with my mother, I started to bring Mom’s weirdness number down to a seven.

Later, everybody at school was telling me how awesome my mom is. I didn’t expect that, but it felt good. Then those same kids started asking if Mom could sign their copies of her books they’d bought at the store. Like when people get autographs from basketball players!

And my friends started saying my mom is a good writer and that her books teach about slavery and black people and history, telling the stories in ways that make kids want to really read and learn more about the stuff we’re doing in school.

Then something happened that started to really change my feelings about my mom’s weirdness. She started writing Hand in Hand. I’d told my mom I really wanted a book like that. I needed a book like that because I was just starting middle school, but also because there weren’t a lot of books with a bunch of stories about black men and their accomplishments, all in the same book.

I almost wished I’d never said anything. Mom went crazy after that. She was writing day and night to make the book for me. My mom was in a trance. She’s always up at four o’clock in the morning writing, but now it seemed like she was awake all the time, working on this book. And she was talking, talking, talking to me and my friends about it, and asking, asking, asking us all kinds of questions about what we thought of black history. She was also listening a lot, and writing down stuff we said. The whole thing was annoying. And weird. But kind of awesome, too.

Now that I’m in high school, I still think my mom is weird, but in a good way.

Whenever Mom and I are out together and we’re trying to hail a cab during rush hour, or flag one down when it’s pouring rain, a taxi always comes right away. The same is true on the subway platform. When Mom and I are together, we never have to wait for the train. It always seems to pull up as soon as we arrive. Mom says this is because my sister, Chloe, and I are her lucky charms, and that being with us is the reason these good things happen.

When Mom won the Coretta Scott King Author Award for Hand in Hand, the book she says I inspired, she told me it was my mojo that did it.

But I’m not so sure. I think taxis, subway cars, and good writing come to my mom because she’s got some kind of weird awesome mojo, too.

From the July/August 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read Pinkney’s 2013 Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech.

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About Brian Pinkney, Phil Davis Jr., and Dobbin Pinkney

Brian Pinkney is Andrea’s husband and the illustrator of Hand in Hand, among many other books. Andrea’s brother, Phil Davis Jr., is a music producer and entertainment artist. Fourteen-year-old Dobbin Pinkney, Andrea and Brian’s son, is a high school freshman and a principal dancer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Teen Extension.

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