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JUST JERRY

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 1 year ago

7 June 2023 JUST JERRY: HOW DRAWING SHAPED MY LIFE by Jerry Pinkney, Little Brown, January 2023, 160p., ISBN: 978-0-316-38385-1

 

“It never really mattered much to me what I was drawing. It was the drawing itself that mattered.”

 

“Every picture tells a story, don't it

Every picture tells a story, don't it”

– Rod Stewart (1971)

 

“I’d been drawing for as far back as I could remember. My grandfather Charles worked at the Blaisdell pencil factory on the corner of East Earlham and Lena Streets, so there was no shortage of pencils around. Drawing was the one thing I felt I could do right, the one thing people told me I was good at. It was my way of living in my imagination and breaking free of the constraints I was growing up with. Everything I saw, heard, felt, tasted, and smelled, I’d think of as a picture. When I wasn’t sketching, I was gathering and storing up experiences into a visual memory bank, ready to be translated to paper. It was as if I had a compartment in my brain that held a sketchbook and my granddad’s pencils.

After grabbing one of the pencils from an empty mayonnaise jar, I added more lines to a cowboy on horseback. They flowed out of my hand without my even trying, carrying me far away to the limitless plains of the West.

At long last, I heard only the comforting scratching of my pencil on paper; everything was quiet in my head. Finally, I was alone, able to be anything and go anywhere.

And in the world in which I was living, to be anything or go anywhere was not a dream that young Black boys often dared to have.”

 

Jerry Pinkney (1939-2021) was one of America’s greatest children’s book illustrators. He was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 2010 for THE LION AND THE MOUSE. He was recognized with Caldecott Honors for five of his other picture books. He won many other awards for his artwork. 

 

Despite having shared his books with my preschool students and my own kids, beginning a generation ago, I was nevertheless bowled over by the writing in this moving memoir of his childhood published posthumously this year. 

 

“I opened the door to the cellar and clicked on the light to Dad’s workshop. Mother had warned us, ‘Don’t go downstairs without your father. There are too many ways that you could  get hurt!’

But I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. I’ll be extra careful, I decided. Dad’s workshop was the most magical place in the world. He was a handyman by trade, but he was a craftsman to me, and his basement was like his studio.”

 

In Chapter 2, “Down the Basement Stairs,” Pinkney teases his audience with the possibility of impending disaster when he sneaks into the basement to borrow his dad’s tools for the purpose of building a clubhouse with his buddies on a nearby vacant lot. But the punchline turns out to be a punch in the gut, as we read how Jerry repeatedly sought, and failed to receive, his father’s approval.

 

“Dad’s silence reminded me of how he used to give me scraps of leftover wallpaper from his jobs so I could draw on the blank sides, but he never took the time to look at the drawings I made on them.”

 

Jerry Pinkney grew up on a Black dead end street in Philadelphia, mindful of the racist limitations he faced outside of his loving neighborhood bubble. Struggling with learning disabilities, Jerry found his way to shine through his drawing and painting.

 

“Each stroke took me back to the best part of the day…with that feeling of being free to go anywhere.

Before the cops came along and reminded me that I wasn’t.”

 

JUST JERRY is filled with the sketches that the author had intended to turn into full-color illustrations. On one hand, it’s disappointing that Jerry’s sudden death left his vision for illustrating this memoir unfulfilled. On the other hand, it’s so fascinating and instructive to see all of these sketches and gain a better sense of how Mr. Pinkney actually transformed those experiences in his head into the award-winning picture book art that will survive into the future.

 

I knew Jerry Pinkney as a kind and gentle man, with whom I loved to hang out at library and publishing conventions. JUST JERRY is a wonderful capstone and tribute to the career of this award-winning children’s illustrator who I feel fortunate to have known.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/    

richiepartington@gmail.com  

 

 

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