Immediately engaging, Jerry Pinkney’s middle-grade memoir, Just Jerry (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, January 2023) draws you in instantly on the small neighborhood streets of Philly in 1950. You also might find refuge under the piano bench, where young Jerry hid to draw in peace. (Well, as much peace as he could find in a tiny house with eight people.) In his memoir, Jerry Pinkney shows how drawing helped him gain confidence to keep learning. He shares his story from his childhood, while he struggled to read through his dyslexia, to his teenage years, when he becomes an artist-in-training with a skilled cartoonist.
Pinkney’s own sepia-toned sketches illustrate the book. While Jerry Pinkney intended his book to be illustrated similarly to a mixed text-and-graphic novel, that full-color vision was never completed. Jerry Pinkney died in October 2021 from a heart attack, before this book could be finished. In some respects, the sketched look may better complement the story of childhood. Pinkney’s full-color picture book art is simply stunning in its grandeur and detail. This is a story of a child, one who is learning. The in-process art just works.
Dyslexia-friendly font makes this an ideal book to go along with the ideal story about an unlikely hero — a dyslexic child who grows up to be a world-renowned illustrator. Pinkney’s epilogue mentions his adult successes and family happiness. But this is a memoir of his childhood, and the emphasis is on the moments of childhood that still stand out and resonate, even for an old man. It’s a treasure to read this tribute to the unique and blessed childhood of the man who has been awarded the Newbery Medal, as well receiving the Newbery Honor five times.