Review of Just Jerry, by Jerry Pinkney

Just Jerry

How Drawing Shaped My Life

by Jerry Pinkney

Little, Brown and Company, 2023. 146 pages.
Review written 3/23/23 from a library book.
Starred Review

Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney had the words to this book almost completely written before his death in 2021, but the pictures were only in sketch form. However, Jerry’s sketches still make wonderful illustrations for a book, so the editors took what he had made and put it together. And what he made includes at least one sketch for almost every page. The print is in a font that’s easier with kids with dyslexia to read, something Jerry wanted in particular.

This book tells the story of a kid growing up in a Black neighborhood in Philadelphia, surrounded by friends and having adventures. However, he wasn’t so happy about school, because he had dyslexia before it was common to get a diagnosis. He only knew that he had trouble reading.

But a wonderful and understanding teacher noticed how much he loved to draw and let him get extra credit by drawing pictures for the class. And that was the first of many ways adults noticed his passion and encouraged him.

The summer before eighth grade, he got himself a job selling newspapers across from an art supply store. He spent his first earnings on a sketchpad and started sketching in between customers. Before long, he was selling his sketches along with the papers. And that led to meeting an artist who drew a comic in the very papers he was selling. With encouragement from people like these, he began to envision his art as a way to make a living some day, despite his difficulties with reading.

I love the way the book ends. It’s not a spoiler alert if you know that Jerry went on to a distinguished career illustrating and writing children’s books.

I couldn’t even begin to dream of my art being shown in a place like the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’d never even been to a museum.

But all that time I’d put into drawing, I was drawing my dream. And one day, more than fifty years later, the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted a solo exhibition titled Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney.

Mother had turned out to be right. She had always said that I would make something of my name.

I had the privilege of hearing Jerry Pinkney speak more than once, and every time he left me with a smile. This book does the same, making me happy that the boy we read about went on to make so many other children happy with his wonderful art.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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