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Showing posts with label Jerry Pinkney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jerry Pinkney. Show all posts


Noah's Ark (2002)

Written and Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Pencil, colored pencils, watercolors

Book design by Jerry Pinkney and Atha Tehon

Chronicle Books

An incredible book by Jerry Pinkney, and gives a fair and beautiful interpretation of the Noah's Ark myth found in Genesis. I'm always dismayed by the saccharine take many writers seem to strive toward, as though the whole ordeal was just a giggle and... oh, look at those cute puppy dogs!

Pinkney lays out the grimness of the scenario with the first line of text: "God was not pleased with the people of the earth." He presents a barren landscape in which black smoke plumes from a distant city.

Noah, however, does not live in the city. He is seen gathering berries with his family out in the woods, when his head cocked, as though receiving a message from an invisible source.

For the next several pages, Noah and his family construct the ark, but it is only when the animals begin to arrive that we get the full force of Pinkney's talent. He captures the chaos of their movement, their body language, their craned necks and their attempts to not be trampled underfoot by their brothers and sisters, in just one painting.

Then: rain.

The water rose over cities and towns. Whales swam down ruined streets. Schools of fish darted through empty windows.

I actually found that to be the most inspired and creative sequence in the book, as large humpbacks navigate over submerged cities. The entire world is now their environment, and they prosper.

Meanwhile, back on the ark, Noah lets fly his raven and his dove. The humpbacks are seen in the distance bounding out of the waters as the dove returns with its olive branch to Noah's outstretched hand.

And God set a rainbow in the heavens as a sign of this promise to Noah and to Noah's family and to every living thing.

Noah is last seen tilling the fields with his oxen, while his sons and their families journey out, each in a different direction, to populate the earth once more.

In the final painting, Pinkney takes a step back and presents the planet earth hovering in space, covered in rainbows and thick clouds.

Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat. Summer and winter, night and day, shall never cease as long as the earth endures.


John Henry (1994)

Retold by Julius Lester

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Pencil, colored pencils and watercolor

Typography by Jane Byers Bierhorst

Dial Books

Another gorgeous book by Pinkney and written by the great Julius Lester, who took great pains to find a new way of telling this story. He writes in his introduction that he found a great resonance between the characters of John Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr. He's uncertain as to what the connection is, precisely, but doing this book helped him explore the issue.

Lester went through several old stories and songs and lifted ideas and stanzas to fill in the details of John Henry's life. We begin with a birth sequence reminiscent of another famous birth in a stable in Bethlehem. In fact, the very first image is that of a shooting star.

Pinkney is an obvious lover of animals, and he fills the opening sequence with moose, bears, birds, mountain critters and forest dwellers of all size and shape and variety - even a unicorn I just now noticed - who have come to the home of the Henry family as they welcome into the world their uncommonly strong baby boy, lifting his cradle above his head.

"You have probably never heard of John Henry. Or maybe you heard about him but don't know the ins and out of his comings and goings. Well, that's why I'm going to tell you about him."

John Henry as a child
John Henry as a child.
John Henry grows into an adolescent almost instantaneously, and is seen the very next day out chopping trees and piling up lumber. He "helped his papa rebuild the porch he had busted through, added a wing onto the house with an indoor swimming pool and one of them jacutzis (sic). After lunch he chopped down an acre of trees and split them into fireplace logs and still had time for a nap before supper."

The day after that, John challenges Ferret-Faced Freddy to a race: Freddy on horseback, John on foot. I'm sure you can guess who the winner is.

Its as though John doesn't know what to do with his strength, and becomes a trickster of a kind. It's not until he meets the road crew that he finds his calling. With his two twenty-pound sledgehammers with four-foot handles made of whale bone, he breaks through a boulder which remained untouched after a dynamite explosion. As he swings his mighty hammers, he sings out:

I got a rainbow
Tied round my shoulder
It ain't gon' rain,
No, it ain't gon' rain.

John Henry stell driving man
"Let's have a contest!"
There seem to be a thousand variations to the John Henry legend, in terms of these early adventures. However, the climax is always the same. The steam drill.

"It can hammer faster and harder than ten men and it never has to stop and rest!"

"Let's have a contest. Your steam drill against me and my hammers."

Pinkney shows John towering over the boss man, his hammer slung across his shoulders. All the other workers look on in intense curiosity and admiration. What wonderful detail Pinkney has paid to their clothing: The boss man's derby and checkered pants, John's red kerchief and black vest. He clearly spent a great deal of time considering their clothing options of the day, and everything about it comes across as absolutely authentic.

The next day, the contest begins. The narrative relies more on the illustrations here than the text. All day and all night, the steam drill and John Henry attempt to finish first. Finally, the contest is over. "The boss of the steam drill was flabbergasted. John Henry had come a mile and a quarter. The steam drill had only come a quarter."

The victory is short-lived, however, as anyone who has ever heard the song will know. John Henry had hammered so hard and so fast and so long that his big heart had burst.

"Some say he was buried on the White House lawn late one night while the President and the Mrs. President was asleep."

More picture books based on American Folktales!

Shooting star above the White House
An omen above the White House.

Woody Guthrie sings the ballad of John Henry, recorded in 1944.

Julius Lester (1939 - )

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