Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Critically acclaimed children's book author Jerry Pinkney was raised in Germantown.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in Germantown, Jerry Pinkney is a renowned illustrator of many popular children’s books. His books provide positive images for African-American children and other children of color. Pinkney has illustrated over one hundred children’s books, including John Henry (1994), The Tales of Uncle Remus (1987), and Sam and the Tigers (1996).He has also had success as an actor, performing eleven one-man plays at different venues across the country, including “Building Bridges: The Art of Jerry Pinkney” (2004).
Jerry Pinkney was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 22, 1939. He was the middle child, with five brothers and sisters. At a very young age, it was apparent that Pinkney was an artist. He struggled with dyslexia throughout elementary school, but his talent was still obvious to his teachers. In his online biography with Penguin-Putnam, one of his publishers, Pinkney recalls drawing at the age of five years old and “enjoying it immensely.” He attended an all-black elementary school, but his junior high school was integrated, sparking his curiosity about people. “You can see this interest and fascination with people of different cultures throughout my work,” Pinkney said. Both of his parents were supportive of his artwork, but his mother took a particular interest in his talent.
When Pinkney reached his teenage years, his father began to support him more because his talent had become more and more apparent. It was also during these years that Pinkney had one of his most memorable “art” experiences. He started to work at a newsstand and met John Liney, a cartoonist. Liney was successful for his work on cartoon strips such as “Henry.” Liney not only accepted Pinkney as a friend, but also tried to teach him ways to improve his art. Liney brought Pinkney into his studio and encouraged him to continue his artwork. As Pinkney expressed in his online biography with Scholastic, Liney “showed him the possibilities of making a living as an artist.”
Pinkney was accepted into the commercial art program at Dobbins Vocational School. While attending school there, he met his future wife, Gloria Jean, who is also an author. He was accepted by the Philadelphia University of the Arts and received a full scholarship. Here, Pinkney received more formal training, and his art began to become more vibrant. During his time in Philadelphia, Pinkney married Gloria, but they moved to Boston to begin their lives as a family. Pinkney found work at a greeting card company and began to spend his nights working at Barker-Black Studios, where he developed a reputation for the rich details and shading in his artwork. He also spent two years working at Kaleidoscope Studios with some of his friends. After sharing a studio with his friends, he moved on. He moved to New York and opened his own studio, Jerry Pinkney Studios.
Pinkney has been illustrating children’s books since 1964. He most often works on children’s books that celebrate multiculturalism and African-American heritage. Pinkney’s success as an illustrator is due to his talent as an artist and to the way he depicts the rich heritage of African-Americans. Pinkney’s illustrations are bold and colorful. Pinkney does not approach these pieces of work as cartoons; they are very obviously as rich and detailed as the heritage that he celebrates.
Pinkney’s books, such as John Henry, inspire children of all races everywhere. He has illustrated books by Julius Lester, Robert San Souci, Alan Schroeder, and his wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney. Pinkney’s involvement with the theater is also notable. Though many of his plays are simply one-man acts, he has also worked with his wife on many stage productions. These plays mostly deal with Pinkney’s own heritage and family life; they give the audience a background of Pinkney as a person and his approach to art.
Pinkney has recieved many awards that mark his artistic career as an illustrator. He has the exceptional distinction of winning the Coretta Scott King award five times. He has won multiple awards including five Caldecott Honor Books, five Coretta Scott King awards, four New York Times Best Illustrated Awards, the Boston Globe Honor Award, four gold and four silver medals from the Society of Illustrators, and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award. He has also worked extensively with National Geographic Magazine, the National Parks Service, and the American Library Association. He has designed book covers for many of these publications. He has also designed nine postage stamps for the Black Heritage series of stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.
Pinkney attributes much of his success not only to his passion, but also to his ability to research the issues that he is illustrating. During an interview published online by Harper Collins, Pinkney stated “From the very beginning of my career in illustrating books, research has been important. I do as much as possible on a given subject, so that I live the experience and have a vision of the people and places.” Pinkney has always tried to understand the events, people, and places that his art is depicting. He studies the subject matter from inside out, and then presents it factually for the audience through his artwork. In regards to capturing a particular animal in his illustrations he says, “The first step in envisioning a creature is for me to pretend to be that particular animal...I've used photographs of myself posing as the animal characters.” Pinkney also said that his paintings have helped him grow as well: “They have given me the opportunity to use my imagination, to draw, to paint, to travel through the voices of the characters in the stories, and, above all else, to touch children.”
In 2010, Pinkney won the a Caldecott Medal for his work on adapting illustrations for The Lion and the Mouse, a famous fable written by Aseop.
Pinkney currently resides in Croton-on-Hudson, New York with his wife, author Gloria Jean. His four children are now grown. He continues to illustrate books with multicultural themes and says he understands the need for these types of books. He is interested in allowing children to see how diverse the world is and how important that diversity is. He has also worked as an art professor at the University of Delaware and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He continues not only to illustrate, but also gives lectures and workshops at art schools and universities throughout the country.
Tayler, Mildred. The Song of the Trees. New York: Dial, 1975.
Lester, Julius. The Tales of Uncle Remus. New York: Dial, 1987.
San Souci, Robert D. The Talking Eggs. New York: Dial, 1989.
Pinkney, Gloria. Back Home. New York: Dial, 1992.
Lester, Julius. John Henry. New York: Dial, 1994.
Lester, Julius. Sam and the Tigers. New York: Dial, 1996.
Lester, Julius. Black Cowboy, Wild Horses. New York: Dial, 1998.
Andersen, Hans Christian. The Little Match Girl. Adapted by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Dial, 1999.
Andersen, Hans Christian. The Nightingale. Adapted by Jerry Pinkney. New York: Dial, 2002.
“Building Bridges: The Life and Times of Jerry Pinkney.” 2004.