Jerry Pinkney was born in Philadelphia on December 22, 1939, in a family of African American. As a child, because of his dyslexia, Jerry had a hard time with reading and spelling. In a interview, Pinkney stated, "...one of the things that drawing did for me was help my self-esteem. Because even though I knew that there was a struggle in the area of reading and spelling - because I lagged far behind my fellow students - I could make pictures" (Kennedy). Jerry grew selling newspaper on a Philadelphia street corner. He was used to draw while he tended his stand. John Liney, a local artist, noticed him and became his mentor. After graduating from Dobbins Vocational School, Jerry won a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, and after working at a greeting card company, began illustrating books.. As an artist, Jerry has become well-known for his watercolor illustrations, the work he creates with pencils, color pencils, pastels and watercolor, his depiction of folk characters, people in realistic settings, and detailed animal characters. Jerry has illustrated over 100 books during his life carrier. He has earned Caldecott honors, recognition from the Coretta Scott King Awards committee, and many other awards. The latest award was the Caldecott medal for the wordless illustrated book, The Lion and the Mouse.
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In The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, the reader is challenged to create the story in his own words. At first it my look to by an easy task since the pictures seems to be just enough to reveal the plot of the story. The reader has to explore and come up with thoughts that explain the details of the illustrations that hide a lot of clues of this story. The first few illustrations reveal a little bit about the life of a field mouse. The lines and the shapes are curved representing a natural setting and the colors are neutral toward warm at times. At first the owl stretching its wings, covers almost half of the page and it is in contrast to the smallness of the mouse who barely escapes into a small hole in the ground. The lion is painted in a reddish color rather then brown, indicating a sense of warmth and makes it more friendlier to young ones. Again the size contrast between the huge and powerful lion and the tiny and powerless mouse is shown when the lion holds the mouse by it tail. The sound and the look in the lion's face is not a friendly one. The scariness and the danger it is seen in the mouse who tries to cover his head and squeaks in the same scene. In the next scene when the mouse is on the top of the lion's paw, the lions face reveals his attitude of sympathy or pity toward the mouse. The mouse is illustrated entering his place of safety where snugness is found by her baby mice. The details in the illustration where the lion approaches the tree with the poacher's net reveals the unease of the two birds that seems to try warning the lion of the danger zone he is approaching. Also the monkeys are anxious to see what it is going to happen and the and illustration reveals their point of view as we see the lion from the top of the tree. The roar made by the lion gets to the mouse that is shown in few snap shots how she investigates the cause of the roar and then runs to help the lion escape the net in which he is entangled. Through some more snap shots the mouse is revealed at work using very efficient the tiny teeth to "scratch" and cut the ropes until the lion is released. The demeanor of the lion is that of saying thank you to the mouse for saving his life now and acting as a friend in need. A couple more snap shots illustrate the mouse caring a piece of rope back to the nest as a sing of the victory over the net that captured the powerful lion.
Three Little Kittens is the most recent work by Jerry Pinkney. This book represents the energy and the innocence of the little children. The illustrations are colorful and the is taking place in a beautiful but soon to be chillier season of fall. The kittens seem to be stirred up to play outside by the colorful flying leaves the Blue Jay and the Cardinal that they see through the window. The text is paced and with a nursery rhyme that is repeated quit often through out the book as "kittens", "mittens", "play", and "pie". The questions and the use of the sounds "meow" and "purr" are to keep the young children hooked, attentive, and involved in the story (Horning 91). The use of distinctive colors brings forth other elements in the illustrations like the birds that are present throughout the story, the mittens, the toys, and the pie that it savored by the energetic kittens.
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Jerry Pinkney illustrated the Back Home book, in collaboration with his wife Gloria who wrote the book. The plot of the story is drawn from Gloria's own life when at the age of eight she went back to visit her relatives and her birth place in North Carolina. The narrative order of the story follows a direct linear pattern with a limited omniscient point of view. The conflict seems to be built on an imaginary refusal of friendship to the main character Ernestine, by her cousin, Jack, and the tension that exist between them till the end of the story. Jack didn't come to the train station with his dad to welcome her, he also refuses to show her the baby goat when she arrives to his house and the next day laughs at her when she proposes the name to the baby goat by saying: "Princess! . . . That's a citified name!" (Pinkney). Ernestine adds to the suspense of the story when in one occasion responding to Jack's teasing, tells him: "You're a mean boy, Jack Avery" (Pinkney). The end of the story brings the two of them close and holding hands they visit their grandmother burial place, Jack tells her that he choose the name Princess for his baby goat and gave her a present to remind her of the fun she had during her visit. The illustrations are done with a rich pallet of colors and express very well the tension between the two cousins and the key moments of the story. For instance the yellow dress that Ernestine wears sustains her warm attitude and feelings she experience during her visit. Also the richness of the colors represent the rich heritage that Ernestine has in that place where her grandmother lived, where her mother and herself was born. Again a lot of animals, small creatures and flowers in the illustrations.
Many of Jerry's books speak to African American culture. The book The Moon Over Star, written by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrates the emotions and the feelings of a child capable of grasping the historic event of the first landing on the moon. The point of view is that of the main character, Mae, an African American girl, who dreams how someday she will be able to fly to the moon and explore the universe. For the children born after 1969 or were to young to make any sense out of Moon landing, it is a good way of understanding the sentiments and the feelings people had at that time when even Mae's skeptic grandfather declared regarding this event: "I reckon that's something to remember" (Aston). Jerry Pinkney illustrates the story though a combination of pictures, from achromatic colors, probably revealing what Mae and the rest of the world were able to see on the television set, to a pastel of colors reveling the intensity of the launching of the spacial aircraft from the earth. The moon and the earth are painted in different perspective, as it was seen from the space or from the eyes of those on earth. The pictures captures the excitement of the children watching the event on television, or enacting the event with things they find in the barn. Also the pictures depict the astronauts inside the spacecraft or limping on the moon and Mae trying to imitate them in front of her grandfather. The color blue dominates the picture where Mae sit with her siblings, her parents and her grandparents on a blanket outside and watching the moon in the sky over a blue starry night. The lightness is also depicted in the spacecraft that is depicted flying around the earth and the moon, and also through the symbolic closing of the eyes when the children pretend to by part of the mission in the spacecraft as astronauts. The pictures illustrates the power of dreams that inspire humankind even from young age to great things that were unimaginable for just a generation or two ago.
During Jerry's 47 years carrier as an artist, he worked on helping the African American author illustrate their books. One of them was The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll, written by Patricia C. McKissack. The pictures follow a different design than in the other books described until now. The background is always a dim or shaded brown or gray in contrast with the colorful clothes warred by the characters in this story as a way of revealing the vibrant family life and their lively relationship. Also the walls that are wallpapered with newspaper "that would keep out winter winds" (McKissack), are depicted in the background throughout the story thus revealing the poverty of this family. Despite of the hard times of depression, the love of the parents it is shown in giving to their girls more than they expected and even the unexpected, a real "Baby Betty" Afro-American doll. The joy, the excitement, the singing, the frustration, the laughing, and all the expressions are exposed on the faces of all the subjects with the pencils and the watercolors. At one point is pictured only the girl that owns the doll playing with her selfishly on a chair against a white background in four snap shots. She finally comes to the realization that only sharing will make her and her sister have good time and is the right spirit of Christmas. There is a note of realism throughout the story revealed in the two dimensional pattern present especially in the half title and the endpaper, and also in the background throughout the book.
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The work of Jerry Pinkney over the years was related to the need to help young children learn how to read in a more pleasant and easier way. He continues to works along his wife, his two children that became book writers and illustrators, and with teacher, educators and students that supply him with new ideas and things of interest. About this collaboration Jerry says: "We are all in this together to inspire children and get them to read" (PINKNEY'S PASSION). For Jerry it started with his mother who encouraged him to draw when struggling reading, and is continuing this days as he enjoys his passion that bloomed in an extraordinary way.