Illustrator Spotlight: Jerry Pinkney

I was deeply saddened to read about Jerry Pinkney’s recent passing. To call Pinkney foundational and essential to any children’s collection would be an understatement. Pinkney had a career spanning decades, exploring the world of fables, fairy tales, and biblical stories alongside realistic and historical books focusing on the Black experience.

In 2010, his book The Lion & the Mouse received the year’s Caldecott medal from the Association of Library Service to Children. Over his lifetime his work earned five Coretta Scott King awards, which honor “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”

I don’t know enough about art to do his work justice. It seems so simplistic to call his incredible illustrations rich, soft, stylized and yet lifelike at the same time. I don’t know the technical terms to describe how warm and inviting his watercolors are, or why they stand out in displays from across the room. I do know, however, that children’s picture book illustration will feel the impact of Pinkney’s legacy for decades more to come.

One last thing: on his website, Pinkney talks about reading difficulties growing up that in later generations might be diagnosed as dyslexia or other learning disabilities. He wrote:

For the young person who is struggling in school, never forget there are many different ways to learn. Be curious. Do not be afraid to try. Do not be disappointed when making mistakes. You will discover your own unique way of understanding the things being taught. Learn from mistakes. Everything that happens to you will frame who you are, and who you will become. Your path to success will follow.

Below is a list of just some of my favorite books from Jerry Pinkney. I hope you’ll take some time to check out or buy a copy to share with a child in your life.

The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales

The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales cover

Presents six tales about Spider, including those which explain how he got a thin waist and a bald head and why he lives in ceilings and dark corners. Retold by Joyce Cooper Arkhurt, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

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Goin’ Someplace Special

Goin’ Someplace Special cover

Through moving prose and beautiful watercolors, a Coretta Scott King Award and Caldecott Medal-winning author-illustrator duo collaborate to tell the poignant tale of a spirited young girl who comes face to face with segregation in her southern town.

Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | WorldCat

The Grasshopper & the Ants

The Grasshopper & the Ants cover by Jerry Pinkney

In this stunning companion to the Caldecott Medal-winning The Lion & the Mouse and the highly acclaimed The Tortoise & the Hare, a playful grasshopper wonders why the busy ants around him won’t join in his merrymaking as the seasons pass by. But when winter arrives, he soon sees the value of his friends’ hard work–just as the ants learn the value of sharing what they’ve worked for. Featuring a striking, surprise gatefold page, this third book in Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous trilogy of picture book fables subtly shows the pitfalls of procrastination. 

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A Home in the Barn

A Home in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown and Jerry Pinkney

Perfect for fans of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and Big Red Barn, this never-before-published picture book from beloved children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown tells the comforting, snowy story of animals seeking shelter from the cold in a big warm barn.

Brought to beautiful life by Caldecott Medalist and multiple award-winner Jerry Pinkney, this is a must-have for every child’s library and is perfect for cozy wintertime readings.

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The Lion & the Mouse

The Lion & the Mouse cover by Jerry Pinkney

In award-winning artist Jerry Pinkney’s wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s most beloved fables, an unlikely pair learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted. After a ferocious lion spares a cowering mouse that he’d planned to eat, the mouse later comes to his rescue, freeing him from a poacher’s trap. With vivid depictions of the landscape of the African Serengeti and expressively-drawn characters, Pinkney makes this a truly special retelling, and his stunning pictures speak volumes.

Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | WorldCat

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood cover by Jerry Pinkney

In this inspired rendering of the classic Grimm Brothers folktale, Caldecott Medal-winning artist Jerry Pinkney introduces two favorite children’s characters to a new generation: the sly, scary wolf and the sweet little girl in her famous red hood. Readers will squeal with delight all over again during that most memorable scene when Little Red Riding Hood declares, “Oh, Grandmamma, what great teeth you have!” Pinkney’s charming, masterfully-wrought illustrations–as warm and cozy as Little Red’s cloak and as captivating as the clever wolf himself–are sure to lure you into the heart of this treasured tale.

Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | WorldCat

Noah’s Ark

Noah’s Ark cover by Jerry Pinkney

For 40 days and 40 nights rain poured from the heavens, enveloping the world. Only Noah had been warned by God of the great flood and only Noah could save life on earth. This powerful story of salvation has fascinated people of all ages for centuries. Now, four-time Caldecott Honor-recipient Jerry Pinkney captures all the courage, drama, and beauty of this ancient parable in rich, glorious paintings. Full of sensitive detail and emotion, his art brings new life and meaning to an important message of peace. This elegant edition of Noah’s Ark promises to give readers strength and hope for many years to come.

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Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots cover by Jerry Pinkney

For generations, children have been enchanted by the tale of the clever cat in fancy boots who outsmarts a king and a sorcerer to win a castle and a bride for his penniless master. The humor, the magic, and a lush Renaissance setting are all on glorious display, and a well-placed gatefold adds to the drama. This elegant new edition of Charles Perrault’s folktale is essential for every child’s library. 

Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | WorldCat

A Starlit Snowfall

A Starlit Snowfall cover by Nancy Willard and Jerry Pinkney

“My cave is big enough for two!” a bear declares to a rabbit, inviting his small friend to share his den through the longest, coldest season. The rabbit readily accepts the bear’s offer, but no sooner have the two curled up than the lively rabbit jumps up to wonder: Wouldn’t it be better to be out in the crisp winter air, free to leap through the starlight and the sparkling snow?

Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | WorldCat

The Tortoise & the Hare

The Tortoise & the Hare cover by Jerry Pinkney

This nearly wordless companion to the Caldecott Medal-winning The Lion & the Mouse is Jerry Pinkney’s most stunning masterpiece yet. Even the slowest tortoise can defeat the quickest hare, and even the proudest hare can learn a timeless lesson from the most humble tortoise: Slow and steady wins the race! Here is a superbly rendered journey from starting line to finish that embodies the bravery, perseverance, and humility we can all find inside ourselves.

Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | WorldCat

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