A native of Philadelphia, Jerry Pinkney studied at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) where, in 1992 he received the Alumni Award. He has been illustrating children's books since 1964, illustrating more than 100 titles and has been the recipient of a Caldecott Medal, five Caldecott Honor medals, five Coretta Scott King awards and has four Coretta Scott King Honor awards. His books have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries. In 2003 he received an honorary doctor of fine arts from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Pinkney was a U.S. nominee for the 1997 Hans Christian Andersen Illustration Medal. He has been awarded four gold medals, four silver medals, the Hamilton King Award, four New York Times Best Illustrated Book awards, and in 2006 the Original Art's Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators. In addition to his work in children's books, Pinkney has had more than 30 one-man retrospectives. His current book is "Three Little Kittens" (Dial). He lives in New York state.
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Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2010 National Book Festival
Welcome back Jerry! Can you tell us how you got your idea for new children’s book – Three Little Kittens?
My wife the author Gloria Jean suggested that I re-imagine Three Little Kittens for a children’s book. Over the past ten years she’s not only been coming up with the titles to adapt, but also has been a sounding board for me to bounce off ideas that I was considering. We are fascinated with our great-grandchild’s creative playtime as she uses her imagination to the fullest. When she focuses on something you will almost always find a toy or object that she has left behind.
Congratulations on being named 2010 Caldecott Medal winner for your wonderful book The Lion and the Mouse. Can you share your thoughts about winning this award?
As you can imagine it is pretty exciting. I had won five Caldecott Honors, and before the announcement on January 19, 2010, I felt these awards to be special, and indeed they are. But, Oh how good it is to win the gold.
What is coming up for you after the 2010 National Book Festival? New books, projects???
For the past few months I have been working with the Norman Rockwell Museum on a retrospective exhibition that is scheduled to open November 14, 2010. These days my time is spent developing ideas for future projects and promoting my newest book Three Little Kittens.
Here is a fun tip from Jerry about his new book. So be sure to look for the music and sing along.
My publisher had music scored using the text from Three Little Kittens. It can be found on the underside of the book jacket. Our intent was to take this time-honored classic and make it interactive by encouraging children to playfully read and sing the rhyme.
From the 2009 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your new wordless picture book – The Lion and the Mouse?
I have very clear and fond memories of being told the Aesop’s Fables in my growing up years. These narratives have remained with me, and in the year 2000 I adapted sixty of them in an illustrated book for children. Out of all these stories, The Lion and the Mouse has always been a favorite, one that most people bring easily to mind. It is truly a classic along with being a compelling fable, a moral that stood the test of time. When I first began working on The Lion and the Mouse my intent was to add text. It was only after completing the drawings in a dummy book, and feeling satisfied with it, that I realized I had actually told the story without words.
You have illustrated more than 100 picture books for children. Do you have any favorites among all of these titles?
My favorite book is always the one on my drawing table. One of the things that I love about my work is the process of creating an image, its challenges and surprises, all leading and concluding with the final paintings. My work requires the stretching of the imagination, time and energy. My mindset at this time is the pursuing of what I believe will become my best work to date. Yet there are four books that stand out from the rest - John Henry by Julius Lester; Turtle in July by Marilyn Singer; Back Home by Gloria Jean Pinkney; and The Talking Eggs by Robert San Souci.
What challenges do you face in the illustrating process? How do you overcome them?
The role of the illustrator is to interpret text and bring visual life to a narrative. The challenge is to find a way that enhances and enlarges a story line. It is most important in the decision of which project to illustrate, that it will add to my growth as an artist as well as an individual. My purpose is to create works that entertain and inform readers. These challenges fuel my creative process and make for more imaginative works.
What authors and artists have inspired you?
The authors Julius Lester, Virginia Hamilton, Tony Morrison, and Walter Dean Myers have captured my imagination. The artists N.C.Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Charles White, Lisbeth Zwerger, and Tom Feelings have expanded my creative process.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing or illustrating?
If one dreams about becoming an author, one has to perfect the craft of writing and understand the fine points that make for a successful narrative. To accomplish this, a writer must read, read, and read some more. To become an illustrator, one must draw as often as possible, maintain a sketchbook, and frequent museums. A successful illustrator must try to understand what makes for good visual storytelling by drawing, reading, and drawing some more.
Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing exercise to get them started?
Create an illustration using an animal to personify human qualities. The animal may be a pet, one from a favorite story, or an animal living in the wild. The creature may be placed indoors or outdoors, in the present or in the past. They may wear clothing or not. The use of other items may be applied to support and enlarge ideas. Example: A creature playing an instrument. The most important thing to remember is to use the imagination at its fullest. While research for ideas an aspiring artist should always use local and school libraries. The more knowledge one has, the more one can invent.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
- Rain Makes Applesauce, Julian Scheer and Marvin Bileck
- The Honey Bees, Collette Portal and Franklin Russell
- Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
Playing a cello or composing jazz music.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Make sure a book fits the right age. Then find subjects that your child is interested in. Reading should be a pleasant experience – a book that will get his or her mind working.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?