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In Appreciation of Jerry Pinkney (1939-2021)

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This post is by Naomi Coquillon, chief of the Library’s Informal Learning Office.

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.

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, less than one month ago, 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).

2005 National Book Festival poster, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

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 below Pinkney’s short but powerful statement on his love of reading, and the value of pictorial literacy from 2016.

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.

Comments (10)

  1. We have truly lost a giant in the field of children’s literature. In addition to his tremendous talent, he was an elegant gracious man who elevated every thing he touched. I am so grateful the Library of Congress has many of his talks so that future generations can learn from his incredible perspective.

  2. So very sad to hear of the passing of one of the greatest illustrators of all times. Mr. Pickney’s beautiful art work and stories will always impact all lovers of art and children’s literature. I remember reading The Little Red Hen to my elementary children AND they adored the beautiful art work! It captivated their full attention! His work was/is Magic.
    Thank you Mr. Jerry Pickney for sharing your gift!

    Sincere condolences to the Family.

  3. All of us at the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation mourn Mr. Pinkney’s death. May his books and the memory of this great man bring comfort to all.

  4. I was privileged to view the exchange between Jerry Pinkney and Meg Medina during the National Book Festival this year. He was such a humble and talented individual whose talent and wisdom will be missed.

  5. Oh No! Rest in Power Dear Jerry Pinkney! Heartfelt condolences to his family. What an amazing artist. My family was introduced to Mr. Pinkney’s work through the very precious book, Half a Moon and One Whole Star, in the 1980’s. Mr. Pickney’s illustrations were fascinating to all of us, including my then toddler daughter; who was awestruck to see such a beautifully “righteous mirroring” of her own self-image in a book! There were few illustrations of black children/families during that time. We have followed Mr. Pickney ever since…and still keep on hand several of his books for the delight of my great grands and grands. Such sad news. Thank you for this “Appreciation.”

  6. Sweet of memories of your spectacular talent, expertise, resourcefulness and dedication. Your ever-present and welcoming smile and unforgettable illustrations and texts for sharing with children, their families, and those of us privileged with sharing them is a true, memorable gift. Thank you, dear Jerry Pinkney!

  7. Jerry Pinkney is/was an influencer, trailblazer, and icon. His body of classic works will live on forever in the canon of Children’s Literature. He was known for his signature smile and quiet, yet powerful, aura. The African Proverb states, “Success comes from loving what you do.” Everything that Jerry Pinkney did was love and we are all the better. Rest well, you will be missed.

  8. It is with great sadness that we have to mourn the passing of an icon in African American literature. Jerry Pinkney will be missed by those who love to introduce engaging stories with colorful illustrations to children of all ages – school librarians.

    I have no doubt that Jerry Pinkney’s legacy will forever be present in school libraries across the nation and around the world.

    Thank you, Mr. Pinkney, for your lasting gifts to readers, young and old.

  9. I join with all of you in sadness at hearing of Bro. Jerry Pinkney’s transition. He was the first artist to illustrate a published book of mine — Just an Overnight Guest, published by Dial in 1980. I had the honor of also being in a conference with him in St. Louis with Dr. Gerald Early, Dinah Johnson and so many fine other writers some years back. The conference was about Little Black Sambo. Bro Jerry had illustrated “Sam and the Tigers” that Julius Lester had written. We are losing our dear ones minute by minute. We love you, Bro. Jerry. Our thoughts are with your loved ones Sis. Gloria, Bro. Brian, and all.

  10. I as many others are grateful for the body of work provided by Mr. Pinkey. May you Rest In Peace and I sincerely thank you.

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