Jerry Pinkney: A Tribute

We here at Calling Caldecott are tremendously sad to learn about the death yesterday of author-illustrator Jerry Pinkney at the age of 81. As noted in the NPR obituary, released last night, Pinkney illustrated over one hundred books in his magnificent career, which began in 1964 with the publication of The Adventures of Spider: West African Folk Tales. He went on to win multiple Coretta Scott King Awards for illustration, multiple New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book awards, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, an Artist Award from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the Children’s Literature Legacy Award (called the Wilder Medal the year he won), and many other awards and honors, all listed here at his site. (Go, read, be amazed, and bow to a legend.) And then there’s that time that he made Caldecott history in 2010 — after receiving five Honors over the span of 15 years — as the first individual African American artist to win the award for his exquisite The Lion and the Mouse.

It is hard to imagine a world without more of his books, but how fortunate we are to have the big stack we have and to have been witness to a master artist at work. “I am a storyteller at heart,” he wrote at his website, adding: “A sense of community has always been important to me, and I want that to be reflected in my art. When I speak of community, I am not only talking about the immediate world around me, but also legacy. I am always searching for projects that connect with my culture and the experience of being Black in America.”

The legacy Pinkney leaves behind is one that is made up of much more than his exceptional storytelling and artistic abilities; it is at least some comfort to say that we will always have, for revisiting time and time again, the lush pencil and watercolor illustrations of his largehearted stories, with their vibrant colors, elegant details, and his one-of-a-kind, graceful touch. No, his legacy is so much more. It is also one of kindness, and that makes this goodbye even harder for many who knew him. Soon after his death, tributes popped up all over social media, many people remembering his warmth and compassion. As an example, I have been researching the life of late picture-book illustrator James Marshall. My research partner, Jerrold Connors, recalls a conversation with literary agent Sheldon Fogelman. Fogelman told Jerrold that James Marshall was one of the two kindest people he had ever worked with in his extensive career in publishing. When Jerrold asked Fogelman who the other person was, he said, “Jerry Pinkney.” No one familiar with Pinkney’s books would be surprised to hear this, and anyone who had the good fortune to meet him will never forget it.

For me, it was seeing him read to children at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, in 2015. Pinkney was the inaugural recipient of the museum’s Bull-Bransom Award. It was spellbinding to see him read The Lion and the Mouse to young children. He came alive with enthusiasm. He took his time in sharing the story, the children hanging on his every word. He delighted in them and in the story he spun. Pinkney leaves behind an unforgettable collection of books, but I think so much of him is in that singular, marvelous book. I even once heard him say at an ALA conference that the lion on the cover is a self-portrait of sorts. Once you know that, you’ll never see the book the same way again.




We at Calling Caldecott extend our condolences to the entire Pinkney family and hope that the memories so many people are sharing now bring solace. Please feel free to share your own memories in the comments.


Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also reviews for The Horn Book, Kirkus, and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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Jeri Watts

I love his books so much; shared with K-5 when I taught elementary and college and masters students when I taught at college level. His personal story and his work were inspirational and, as a writer of children's books, I'd dreamed of collaborating with him. He is still an inspiration to me... I recognize his work immediately and I am moved by it always. Peace to an amazing man.

Posted : Oct 25, 2021 01:38

Allison Khoury

Thank you for this beautiful tribute. All his art and kindness and vision have given so much to the world. I love his work and am grateful.

Posted : Oct 23, 2021 10:30

Deborah Taylor

In addition to his incredible talent, warmth and kindness, he was a truly elegant man. He brought such distinction to our field. He elevated everything he touched, whether it was a conference panel or a book signing. He will be sorely missed. Sending condolences to his family.

Posted : Oct 21, 2021 02:33

Martha Parravano

My personal memory of Jerry Pinkney is sitting next to him on the CSK Breakfast dais in January 2018, when I was serving on the jury and he was receiving a CSK Illustrator Honor Award, for In Plain Sight. I was pretty starstruck and tongue-tied but it didn't really matter since we had little time for conversation, as person after person came up to the dais to greet him and pay their respects. Old friends, new fans, colleagues, children--it didn't matter who they were, Jerry was unfailingly gracious and warm to everyone (despite the fact that he didn't have much chance to eat his breakfast!). It was a privilege to witness those interactions, to see how much he was treasured and, also, to see so clearly into his character--such a beautiful soul. 

Posted : Oct 21, 2021 01:48



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