Thanks to the Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture for Young Readers, acclaimed illustrator Jerry Pinkney visited the Concord Free Public Library Saturday night (despite the temptation to take the exit leading to the Cape instead). With his wife Gloria’s help, Pinkney walked us through his acclaimed career–which spans almost half a century–as an illustrator of children’s books.
As a child, Pinkney drew on the bedroom walls and grew up in a household full of storytelling, so much so that he considers it among the few possessions his grandparents brought with them when they moved from the South to Philly. The animation and spirit of live storytelling is a quality he tries to capture in his artwork.
While Pinkney started out illustrating other people’s projects, the first book he initiated was John Henry, for which Julius Lester wrote the text. In all of his projects, Pinkney looks for a personal connection, whether it’s his sister’s memory of their mother reading The Ugly Duckling to them or sadness over the exploitation of children (The Little Match Girl). In the case of John Henry, it was re-enacting these tall tales while playing as a child.
Pinkney also showed us pictures of his studio and his drawing process. In addition to meticulous research–including gathering and filing pictures of hanging nets for The Lion & The Mouse in order to find one that provide the most dramatic drop–Pinkney also borrowed taxidermied chipmunks from the Brooklyn Museum (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and used Polaroids of himself and Gloria as models for when his animal characters had to do human activities. Best of all, Pinkney brought with him his sketchbook–which I had the chance to flip through–which contained mock ups for the wordless cover of The Lion & The Mouse, as well as beautifully inked personal sketches of gnarled tree branches.
After the talk, I stuck around to get my picture of the 1994 Children’s Book Week poster signed, and to chat with Jerry and Gloria Pinkney, who have great rapport with each other. When asked whether they’ll do a Pinkney family project–I got two separate recommendations: Music from our Lord’s Holy Heavens and In the Forest of Your Remembrance. I guess they get asked this a lot. Both books are out of print now, so here’s hoping we’ll get something new from all the Pinkneys in the near future.