Jerry Pinkney, My Friend


If you don’t know this author/illustrator, then I would love to introduce you to my friend, Jerry Pinkney.   HERE is a list of his awards.    The list is impressive, including 4 or 5 Caldecott awards – just take a look.

Mr Jerry Pinkney

I consider this man my friend.  I really do.

Have I met him?  You bet – several times.

Have I had private conversations with him?  Indeed – at least 3.

I also have spent time with his wife, Gloria.  She’s a friend too.

I hold all these moments; these memories, close to my heart.

(OK – so he wouldn’t have a clue who I am…  Do both “friends” really need to know each other?)

It was almost 30 years ago when we first met.   I had discovered a charming 3-day event in Bath, Maine that was being hosted by an equally charming independent bookstore.   It was to be held at the Chocolate Church.


There were only 75 – 100 of us attending, so every moment with the authors felt up-close and personal.  Such a special experience.


Side view of Chocolate Church – our shrimp boil picnic was on the other side…

I presented this opportunity to our principal, she said YES and even booked a delightful B&B for us in Bath, Maine.  Four teachers (and one principal) were off on an adventure of a lifetime.   I remember being so excited about the potential of hearing the only author I really knew, Patricia MacLachlan.   Julie Hagan, our 2nd grade teacher, had fallen in love with her Newberry award-winning book, Sarah, Plain and Tall and Julie’s love of this book was infectious.  We could not wait to hear from the creator of this book that had already become a part of us, thanks to Julie.   Little did we know, several days later,  that the woman sitting beside Julie in the bookstore, cooling herself off with a fan and making small talk was… Patricia MacLachlan.    Julie recovered nicely and had the opportunity to engage in the dearest of conversations with this woman – they became “friends”.

We sat next to Barbara Clooney, author of Miss Rumphius, at the shrimp boil dinner…and she became another friend.   After hearing her present her 1985 book, Miss Rumphius, we all committed to somehow purchase lupine seeds – the same  “that bloom along the coast of Maine” and create lupine gardens anywhere – everywhere.   Miss Cooney honored the admonition she ascribed to her best-loved character, Miss Rumphius, who said, ”You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”   We were fully committed to do the same!  Little did we know then that her book, Ox-Cart Man was coming soon and we would fall in love yet again… I don’t remember any of us building an ox-cart, but Julie would be voted most likely to try….

I remember as if it was yesterday – an author I had never heard of, Jerry Pinkney was on the stage introducing us to a book he had been asked to illustrate, A Patchwork Quilt  

Tanya loves listening to her grandmother talk about the quilt she is making from pieces of colorful fabric from the family clothes: an eventual heirloom to represent each person and the important events of their lives together. When Grandma becomes ill, Tanya decides to finish the masterpiece herself, and soon the rest of the family pitches in to help, finding comfort and connection by completing the squares and stitches.

After he finished speaking, we all just sat around and visited with him.  Little did we know the award-winning author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney would become.  He shared with us that one way he held his family close was to paint Gloria and other family members into his illustrations.  We all asked his wife, Gloria to sign beside her image in the book and every time I see that page in Patchwork Quilt, I smile remembering our time at the Chocolate Church.  It happened before all the awards – the many, many awards.  We were just friends meeting for the first time.

And if you are wondering if we went back to school with visions of quilting squares dancing in our heads….you guessed correctly.   I probably need to stop here and apologize to all my students who I overwhelmed with my enthusiasm for my beloved books.   Not sure how many quilt squares I made you create – sorry?!  

The books, The Sunday Outing and Back Home were written by Gloria Jean Pinkney and illustrated by her husband.   When you read these books, you feel like you have taken a peek behind the curtains of the author’s childhood, because the words flow from her memories.

Ever since that first meeting so long ago, I keep looking for my friend at conventions and sometimes I find him!   I last had a chance to speak with Mr. Pinkney at the International Reading Convention in Orlando.   We had a moment to talk about the Chocolate Church and both agree that it was a magical weekend – never to be repeated.    He told me that the reason he, Cooney, and  MacLachlan were there was because they all lived in the area.   Their success was just beginning, so there was still time for talking and making friends.

That day in Orlando, there was a long line behind me waiting for a chance to meet the artist/illustrator, Jerry Pinkney.   So to keep the line moving as we were talking, he was signing yet another of his books for me, but the names were different.   He was dedicating his new book to my grandchild, not my own children.   As I watched him write Davis’ name into yet another glorious book, I realized that we had indeed been “friends” for a very long time.   Good friends.   I’m so excited to have the chance to introduce his books to the next generation in my family

I really want you to get to know this fine man.  Please take a minute to read the acceptance speech he gave as he received his latest award:

Drawing My Dream: 2016 Wilder Medal Acceptance by Jerry Pinkney

If you have a little more time, here’s a chance to hear him speak about his work and specifically his exhibition.  Listen to how he talks about “reading the images”.   There is such power in allowing children to experience the power of the visual message without the spoken words written directing the experience.

One final thought:  Load your home library shelves with Jerry Pinkney books.   They will be legacy books for your children and your grandchildren.    Have a look at all of them on the Jerry Pinkney website along with many beautiful videos not to be missed.  Tell him that his friend Deni sent you;)

PS – I love sharing this memory with you all: Barb (who made it happen), Mary, Julie, and Mary Agnes…  it was magical!

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