Thursday, January 28, 2010

Here is a wonderful interview with Jerry Pinkney, this year's Caldecott award winning illustrator for The Lion and the Mouse. It is from Shelf Awareness.

Jerry Pinkney: A Story that Resonates

On Monday, after five Caldecott Honor book citations, five Coretta Scott King Awards and four Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, Jerry Pinkney was awarded the 2010 Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse (Little, Brown). From cover to endpapers to the 40 pages within, the book wordlessly depicts the story of a lion who frees a mouse that may seem small, but who, in turn, frees the mighty lion. Pinkney's first book, The Adventures of Spider (1964), "which by the way wa

s published by Little, Brown," he points out, is still in print. He attended the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) on full scholarship. He has received five New York Times Best Illustrated Awards, was a U.S. nominee for the 1997 Hans Christian Andersen Illustration Medal, and his artwork is in galle

ries and museums around the world. Next month, the Schomburg Center in Harlem will exhibit 40 pieces that he created in the 1970s (he'll give a talk and sign books on February 6). In November, the Norman Rockwell Museum will exhibit Pinkney's work on the theme of "place."

How did growing up in Philadelphia influence you as an artist?

I was born in 1939, so those early

years in the 1940s were a time where we still had the shadow of segregation as far north as Philadelphia. I grew up on a street that was all African-Americans; many had migrated from the South. It was a dead-end street--to the left was an Italian community and to the right was a Jewish community. A lot of my early life was informed by different and separate communities; you see that in my work. My life was shaped by going to an

African-American school that wasn't integrated until I was in junior high. You see in my work the pursu

it of telling the African-American experience and also the other side of it, which is how this country is such a patchwork of different cultures and nationalities. I do see the world and my community from the lens of a black person.

You included "The Lion and the Mouse" in your Aesop's Fables (2000). Why did you want to probe more deeply into this fable?

Going into that project, there were three of us looking for well known tales but also lesser known stories. We must have loo

ked at over 200 fables. "The Lion and the Mouse" was at the top of everyone's list. It was always with me as far back as I can remember.

It was a favorite of mine--the majestic lion is a favorite for most of us. It's a great fable with a powerful moral. It resonates today as much as it did hundreds of years ago. It's magical, that these two opposite characters both play a role in the same narrative. I was anxious to revisit it because that one spot illustration [in Aesop's Fables] wasn't enough to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it.

How did you plan the pacing of the narrative, given that the pictures tell the entire story?

I knew I would add to t he front end, and I've been doing that with some of my other stories with the endpapers. Let's see, how we can lead the reader into the story? How can I prepare you so you go on that journey? Why would the mouse be out on the plains at that time? She'd be searching for food. For herself? Let's add family. Once I added the family on the front end, it made sense for the lion to have a family. I thought it was a treasure of a fable, but did I know the family would be important in the book? No, I didn't know any of that. You listen to what you're doing and what the story's asking.

You recently moved to a new studio, with space to lay out an entire picture book at once. Did that help you in your process with this book?

I think about this often. I don't know if there's a direct line, but I've been there for a year and a half. In that time, I've done The Lion and the Mouse, The Sweethearts of Rhythm and a project on the African burial ground [in New York] that opens next month. [The work] seems more focused and pointed. It's the ability to lay the work out, but it's also an environment that's really for work. There's no telephone, no television or computer. There's no denying there's a difference in the projects since I've been in that space. And the work is more joyful.

The Serengeti landscape is so integral to your book. Have you been there?

I've not been to the Serengeti. It's funny, I met a woman after church who'd bought the book, and she said she'd been to the Serengeti, and she said when she opened the book, she felt she was back there again. One of the reasons I've worked so well with National Geographic and the National Parks is that a lot of it is reinterpreting; what you're doing is reconstructing because a lot of it doesn't exist anymore. I use my imagination to evoke the spirit and the look of a place.

Why do you prefer watercolors?

I've always loved drawing as far back as when I was in college. There are two reasons: first of all, drawing and line has been important to me. In the early stages, for commission projects and for publishing, most of the work was printed in two to three colors, so line was important to the separation process [in which the same piece of art was run through the printer several times with each color separately]. Then I chose a transparent medium because the line is still important to what I do--it's about the importance of the mark and the possibility of that mark. --Jennifer M. Brown


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