Child’s Play with Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney’s legacy: honesty with children about the precariousness of life — and the power of generosity.

Pinkney painting his signature lion for summer campers at Coleman library.
Jerry Pinkney’s sketch of himself as a boy.

I brought what was inside my head to life, creating a new world, where I was not nervous, where there was no yelling, no loud music, no cursing neighbors, no dyslexia, no sweaty palms before having to read in class, no Friday spelling tests, no bullying. No more trying so hard to please my father, who withheld even the smallest nod of recognition for my efforts. There were no police sirens in my illustrated world, either, or city curfews, or newspaper headlines detailing the lynching death of Emmett Till, just two years younger than I was. Real life was scary, but in drawing, I felt safe. To this day, as the world gets more complicated, with more stress on me, my family, my community, and our world, I can retreat to my safe place: the imagination and the act of making pictures.

We shared that with children and teachers. But what will stay with all of us, always are the books, the gorgeous books, and the mercy and generosity, the wonder and insistence on beauty. From that magical week, here’s my reflection on a class spent with third- and forth-graders and a wastrel grasshopper and anal-compulsive ants — with Jerry Pinkney’s loving twist.

Images from “The Grasshopper and the Ants,” by Jerry Pinkney.
Art made by the children at Childs. Photo: Lorene Cary
Drawing of a real anthill and a doubtful subject.
Jerry Pinkney inspects Childs Elementary summer students’ interpretation of The Grasshopper and the Ants

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Author, lecturer, playwright

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