Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Award-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney was working on this memoir at the time of his death in 2021.  He writes of his childhood, growing up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in the 1940’s and 1950’s, surrounded by a chaotic but loving family and neighborhood.  Due to dyslexia (the book is written in a font created for those with dyslexia), he struggled in school, but always found solace in sketching and art.  His memories of home, school, and summers at the Jersey shore describe the racism he and his family had to deal with but also the support he got from his family, friends, and members of the community. Thanks to hard work and a little luck, he finds his way to beginning an art career by the end of the book. The epilogue describes how his early life led to his success as an illustrator. 160 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Jerry Pinkney has created a wonderful memoir, showing what it was like to grow up in a loving family that also struggled with racism; with an undiagnosed learning disability; and with a passion and talent for art.  He emphasizes the positives in his childhood without shying away from some of the difficulties.

Cons:  Because Jerry died before this was completed, the illustrations are his rough sketches.  I enjoyed them but couldn’t help feeling wistful about what might have been.

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