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In Appreciation of Jerry Pinkney (1939-2021)

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Jerry Pinkney, 1939-2021

Our team was left saddened by news of the sudden passing of renowned illustrator Jerry Pinkney last week. Pinkney, whose career spanned more than 50 years, was a gifted visual storyteller with a unique style that was quickly recognizable. He garnered many awards for his work, including the Caldecott Medal for his book “The Lion and the Mouse,” which he both wrote and illustrated, and multiple Coretta Scott King awards for illustration.

National Book Festival poster, designed by Jerry Pinkney in 2005.

Many of us at the Library grew up with his work, had the pleasure of meeting him at National Book Festival events, and have shared his work with our children. That was certainly the case for me—I recall his cover illustration for “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” quite vividly from my childhood and read his version of Aesop’s Fables with my six-year-old this fall. A colleague recounted to me her memory of the joy she felt at meeting Pinkney at her New Jersey elementary school more than 30 years ago as we both sat “backstage” with him on September 26 during the 2021 National Book Festival. This year, he spoke about his most recent book, a reimagining of the story of “The Little Mermaid,” in both a live Q&A session (a recording of which is available here) and in a conversation with author Meg Medina (available here).

Pinkney had a long relationship with the Library’s National Book Festival. In 2002, the second year of the festival, the Pinkney family—Jerry; his wife and frequent collaborator, Gloria; his son Brian and daughter-in-law Andrea, a children’s book illustrator and author, respectively—spoke together at the event. It was recorded and is available in two parts, here and here.  In 2005, Pinkney designed the festival poster (at right and downloadable here); we still receive requests for prints. You can find recordings of many of Pinkney’s appearances at the Library on our website, but I’ll include Pinkney’s short but powerful statement from 2016 on his love of reading and the value of pictorial literacy below.

“I’m dyslexic. And so reading to me is challenging and it always has been as a kid. Yet I could also tell you that I love reading. Because I understand, one, that in many ways in order to succeed. . . you’ve got to be able to see the world. You’ve got to be able to understand others. . . I think I’m a great advocate for reading, but I also want to be an advocate for pictorial literacy. There are many ways of reading the world.

Thank you, Jerry Pinkney.


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