We’ll Miss You, Jerry Pinkney

Bright yellow poster, depicting Mark Twain and other writers, below a headline in bright red

Jerry Pinkney designed the Library’s 2005 poster for the National Book Festival..

This is a guest post by Naomi Coquillon, Chief of Informal Learning, Center for Learning, Literacy and Engagement.

Our team was left saddened by news of the 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.

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  the joy she felt at meeting Pinkney at her New Jersey elementary school more than 30 years ago — while we were both sitting backstage with him on September 26, less than one month ago, during the 2021 National Book Festival. There, he spoke about his most recent book, a reimagining of the story of “The Little Mermaid,” in both a live Q&A session  and in conversation with author Meg Medina.

Pinkney had a long relationship with the NBF. 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; 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 on his love of reading, and the value of pictorial literacy from 2016 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.