Open Sesame: Spotlight on Jerry Pinkney

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Spotlight on Jerry Pinkney
In Celebration of Black History and an Illustrious Career

In January of 2016, the American Library Association announced the highly anticipated Youth Media Awards, some of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. The Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, which recognizes an African-American author or illustrator whose body of published work has made a significant contribution in children’s literature, was given to Jerry Pinkney. Minutes later the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which honors an author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to children’s literature, was awarded. Also to Jerry Pinkney. The crowd cheered wildly – history had been made.

It was unparalleled and exceptional for someone to win both awards in the same year.  But Jerry Pinkney’s art is unparalleled and exceptional. His distinct watercolor style is rich, vibrant, and emotive, with intricate detail and an active use of line that energizes each creation. His 50-plus year career has yielded illustrations in over 100 titles and his dozens of accolades include the Caldecott Medal, five Caldecott Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, four Coretta Scott King Honors, five New York Times Best Illustrated Awards, the Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, and multiple awards from the Society of Illustrators. Pinkney also designed a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage Series and has held 11 one-man retrospectives at esteemed venues such as the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Much of Pinkney’s inspired and powerful work focuses on the African-American experience and history, while reflecting a strong sense of community. His adaptations of folktales and fables are some of the finest available. An essential part of the canon of children’s literature, his work will be treasured for decades to come. To learn more about Jerry Pinkney, his life and art, visit


  1. John Henry written by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    From his fortuitous birth through his greatest wonders to his final battle against the steam drill, this book captures the strength and might of the epic folk hero, John Henry. Rich illustration moves across the page with emotion and power, and the rhythmic language of the storyteller makes for a great read-aloud. — Published by Dial Books, 1994.  ISBN: 978-0803716063
  2. Black Cowboy, Wild Horses written by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    Set in the wide open prairie of the Wild West, this  true story is based on the life of Texas cowboy, Bob Lemmons, who was a highly skilled horse wrangler and former slave. Readers get a taste of cowboy life, the landscape and the horses, as Lemmons tracks a herd of wild mustangs and corrals a little known part of cowboy history. — Published by Dial Books, 1998.  ISBN: 978-0803717879
  3. The Lion And The Mouse illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    In this wordless adaption of Aesop’s fable, a lion makes a fateful decision when he decides not to eat the mouse who has disturbed him. For the mouse repays the kindness when releasing the lion from a poacher’s trap. Set in the African Serengeti, this magnificent and luminous work is a childhood treasure. –Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. ISBN: 978-0316013567
  4. The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    In this retelling of a Creole folktale, Blanche, who is kind and sweet, helps an old woman who has magic powers and is rewarded with talking eggs that hold valuable treasure. Her mean sister, Rose, tries to steal some magical eggs for herself, but her selfishness and inability to follow directions meet a much different outcome. A fantastical tale with gorgeous illustrations. — Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 1989. ISBN: 0803706194
  5. Mirandy and Brother Wind written by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    Determined to win the upcoming junior cakewalk, Mirandy decides she must enlist Brother Wind as her partner. Though her strategies are thwarted, and often comical, her resolve is not. A joyful and spirited story, which reflects the rural life of the South in the early 1900’s. — Published by Dragonfly Books, 1997. ISBN: 978-0679883333
  6. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    The beloved lullaby is reimagined under Pinkney’s artful hand. A chipmunk, wondering about the twinkling star above him, takes a whimsical adventure, sailing into the twilight sky, passing other wild creatures, and culminating with a soft, feathery end. — Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011. ISBN: 978-0316056960
  7. The Tortoise & The Hare illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    The classic Aesop fable is adapted in full, vibrant color and set in the desert of the American Southwest. Mostly wordless, the picture book communicates the important message of the fable, showing how tortoise wins the race with a sure and steady pace, while hare wins a valuable lesson in sportsmanship. — Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013. ISBN: 978-0316183567
  8. Grasshopper & The Ants illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.
    Third in a trilogy of Aesop fables, Pinkney takes on the story of grasshopper, who doesn’t know why the ants are so busy working instead of joining him for fishing, picnicking, and dancing. Through spring, summer, and fall, the ants decline his invitations. Then winter comes, and grasshopper, woefully unprepared, finally gets it. The ants, understanding the warmth of sharing, invite grasshopper into their tree trunk home for tea and cookies. — Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015. ISBN: 978-0316400817


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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