Beloved and exquisitely talented, Jerry Pinkney (1939-2021) gifted us with his beautiful storytelling and picture books, meant to be shared on laps and in classrooms and libraries everywhere. His beautifully detailed watercolor illustrations won numerous awards, including five Coretta Scott King Awards and five Caldecott Honor Medals. In 2010 he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for The Lion & the Mouse,” a retelling of the Aesop fable set in the Serengeti, with the characters surrounded by other African wildlife.
In this exclusive video interview with Reading Rockets, Jerry Pinkney talked about telling stories through pictures and creating real, true portraits — as well as growing up as a "slow reader" and the early encouragement he received as a young artist.
You can watch the interview below, view the interview transcript, read a short biography of Jerry Pinkney, or see a selected list of his children's books. We've also included additional video interviews with Jerry Pinkney here.
In his long career, Jerry Pinkney illustrated more than 100 children's picture books, many with Black characters or images of Black history and culture. His illustrations won numerous awards, including five Coretta Scott King Awards and five Caldecott Honor Medals. In 2010 he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for The Lion & the Mouse,” a retelling of the Aesop fable set in the Serengeti. In 2016, Pinkney received the Coretta Scott King—Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. He also adapted and illustrated classic tales such as Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling.
Jerry Pinkney collaborated regularly with authors Julius Lester, Patricia McKissack, Robert San Souci, and his wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney. In addition to children's books, Jerry's artwork has appeared in museums, magazines, greeting cards, and on U.S. postage stamps. Two of his children, Myles and Brian, have also become successful children's book illustrators.
Jerry Pinkney died in 2021 at the age of 81. He was a legend in the children's book world, and readers of his books from all over the world mourned his death and celebrated his life and work. Here are two stories in remembrance: The New York Times and National Public Radio.
The Pinkney story
Jerry Pinkney was born in Philadelphia in 1939. Despite his difficulties with reading and spelling, he graduated from elementary school with honors. As early as the first grade, Jerry became known as the class artist. His parents and teachers recognized, supported, and encouraged his artistic talents. After graduating from Dobbins Vocational School in Commercial Art, Jerry Pinkney received a full scholarship to attend the Philadelphia Museum College of Art. He met his wife, Gloria Jean, while studying at Dobbins.
Jerry and Gloria Jean Pinkney later moved to Boston and raised four children. They exposed their children to a wide variety of visual, musical, and performing arts, but did so without pressure or expectation. Brian Pinkney liked to draw, paint, and make figures out of pipe cleaners. Myles also liked to draw and paint, but by middle school had become enamored with the magic of photography.
Like his father, Brian began illustrating children's books in watercolor. But once he discovered scratchboard, it soon became his signature medium. Brian has now illustrated over two-dozen books, including his wife Andrea's Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, which received a Caldecott Honor in 1999. Myles Pinkney worked as a photojournalist and freelance photographer before his recent entrance into the world of children's books with his wife, Sandra. Myles' stunning photographs have received awards and praise from parents, teachers, and children.
Although Jerry, Brian, and Myles live in different parts of New York State, they encouraged each other and even collaborated on projects. Together they co-illustrated Gloria Jean Pinkney's 2001 book, In the Forest of Your Remembrance. All three illustrate books that their wives write. So whether it is Jerry and Gloria Jean, Brian and Andrea, or Myles and Sandra, the Pinkney name is well known and easy to find on library shelves.
More interviews with Jerry Pinkney
Jerry Pinkney on literacy
Jerry Pinkney addressed the importance of literacy at the 2016 Library of Congress National Book Festival
NRM Kids Ask: Jerry Pinkney
Jerry Pinkney was an award-winning artist who began his creative journey in the field of illustration in 1960. (Norman Rockwell Museum Artist Laureate program)