Jerry Pinkney, the Lion of the Caldecott

The late Jerry Pinkney was a Caldecott giant, winning five Caldecott honors before striking gold with his historic 2010 win for The Lion and the Mouse. Let's take a moment — here on this blog that's all about the Caldecott — to appreciate his impact on the award as we remember a great artist and man.

In yesterday's Calling Caldecott post, Julie noted the historic nature of his 2010 win for The Lion and the Mouse: "the first individual African American artist to win the award." (The "individual" qualification is because interracial husband-and-wife team Leo and Diane Dillon were jointly awarded Caldecott medals back in 1976 and 1977.) Since Jerry Pinkney's win in 2010, the Medal gates have opened for artists of color — with Dan Santat's 2015 award for The Adventures of Beekle; Javaka Steptoe's 2017 medal for Radiant Child, Kadir Nelson's 2020 The Undefeated gold, and Michaela Goade's 2021 win for We Are Water Protectors — but they sure were closed until Jerry Pinkney came along to open them, with his exquisite Lion and the Mouse. 

As noted above, he also won five Caldecott honors. That's not the most in Caldecott history, but very few artists have won in those numbers, and the ones that have — Marcia Brown and Maurice Sendak come to mind — make pretty exalted company. Here are the five Caldecott Honor Books, to remind ourselves of their distinction and Pinkney's achievement:

  • 1989 Honor for Mirandy and Brother Wind, written by Patricia C. McKissack
  • 1990 Honor for The Talking Eggs, written by Robert D. San Souci
  • 1995 Honor for John Henry, written by Julius Lester
  • 2000 Honor for The Ugly Duckling
  • 2003 Honor for Noah's Ark

We've concentrated here on the Caldecott connection, because that's what we do! But of course there's much more to Jerry Pinkney's legacy. More books than those recognized by the Caldecott, more accolades and awards, and more heart. As he once told Horn Book editor Roger Sutton, "My dream is to do the best possible work in my power and that this effort serves a purpose and in an important way nurtures our youth. Also, to have my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all children of the world be valued, that we as caretakers provide for them a bridge of hope and an ark of promise." 

Jerry Pinkney, 1939-2021. Photo: Robyn Pforr Ryan.

Martha V. Parravano and Julie Danielson
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog. Julie Danielson, co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog, writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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