Review of Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life

Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life
by Jerry Pinkney; illus. by the author
Intermediate     Little, Brown    160 pp.
1/23    9780316383851    $17.99

Reflecting on some memorable moments of his life, celebrated author-illustrator Pinkney offers an intimate look back to his childhood in this poignant, posthumously published memoir. The book opens in 1949 in a close-knit African American community in Philadelphia, where nine-year-old Jerry’s days are filled with the camaraderie of his “buddies” and their escapades in the neighborhood. Having drawn for as long as he could remember, Pinkney recalled, “It was my way of living in my imagination, and breaking free of the constraints I was growing up with. Everything I saw, heard, felt, tasted, and smelled, I’d think of as a picture.” He thrived in a nurturing, sometimes chaotic home; his supportive family recognized his talent, but he faced challenges in school due to undiagnosed dyslexia. At age thirteen, while working at a newsstand, he met a comics artist who invited Pinkney to visit his studio, leading the young man to believe “that my talents might lead to an actual profession.” Pinkney’s conversational text, printed in a dyslexia-friendly font (per the book’s introduction), is accompanied by equally energetic and copious sketches that weave in and out of the pages; final art had not been completed upon his death. An opening editor’s note explains Pinkney’s vision for the book, which he had been thinking about and working on for a decade, until he died in 2021: “This book has been visually composed in a way that differs from Jerry’s intention but hopefully still captures his goal…to believably bring readers into the world in which he grew up [through] a visually immersive approach.” A list of key dates and selected accomplishments of this extraordinary artist is appended.

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.