Synopses & Reviews
"Mama may have,
Papa may have,
But God bless the child
That's got his own!
That's got his own."
The song "God Bless the Child" was first performed by legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday in 1939 and remains one of her enduring masterpieces. In this picture book interpretation, renowned illustrator Jerry Pinkney has created images of a family moving from the rural South to the urban North during the Great Migration that reached its peak in the 1930s. The song's message of self-reliance still speaks to us today but resonates even stronger in its historical context. This extraordinary book stands as a tribute to all those who dared so much to get their own.
“. …brilliantly conceived.” ALA Booklist (starred review)
“This remarkable work is worth picking up…more than once.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The warm and sweeping illustrations are masterful” School Library Journal
First performed by jazz legend Billie Holiday in 1939, "God Bless the Child" remains one of her enduring masterpieces. In this picture book interpretation, Pinkney depicts a family moving from the South during the Great Migration. Includes a CD of Holiday's recording. Full color.
About the Author
Billie Holiday is one of the most famous jazz singers of all time. She was born Eleanora Fagan Gough in 1915 in Baltimore, Maryland, but changed her name to Billie after her favorite film star, Billie Dove, and Holiday, which was her father's last name. As a child and in the beginning stages of her career, she endured many hardships but made her first recording in 1933 at the age of eighteen. She quickly rose to stardom, and six years later she introduced the world to two of her best-known songs: "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child." Billie Holiday's star burned brightly, but too briefly. She died in New York City at the age of forty-four.
Jerry Pinkney is the illustrator of more than a hundred books for children. A five-time winner of both the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award, he has been recognized with numerous other honors, taught illustration and conducted workshops at universities across the country, and created art for the United States Postal Service's Black Heritage stamps. Books Mr. Pinkney has illustrated include The Ugly Duckling, John Henry, The Nightingale, and Noah's Ark. The father of four grown children, he lives and works in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, in a nineteenth-century carriage house with his wife, author Gloria Jean.
In His Own Words...
"I grew up in a small house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was a middle child of six. I started drawing as far back as I can remember, at the age of four or five. My brothers drew, and I guess in a way I was mimicking them. I found I enjoyed the act of putting marks on paper. It gave me a way of creating my own space and quiet time, as well as a way of expressing myself. You can imagine six children competing for attention and to be heard. I would sit, watching and drawing.
"In first grade I had the opportunity to draw a large picture of a fire engine on the blackboard. I was complimented and encouraged to draw more. The attention felt good, and I wanted more. I was not a terrific reader or adept speller in my growing-up years, and I felt insecure in those areas. Drawing helped me build my self-esteem and feel good about myself, and, with hard work, I graduated from elementary school with honors.
"I attended an all-black elementary school, and I gained a strong sense of self and an appreciation of my own culture there. But Roosevelt Junior High was integrated. There I had many friends, both white and black, at a time when there was little mixing socially in school. There the spark for my curiosity about people was lit. You can see this interest and fascination with people of different cultures throughout my work.
"My formal art training started at Dobbins Vocational High School, and upon graduation I received a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum College of Art. My major was advertising and design. The most exciting classes for me were drawing, painting, and printmaking. It is no wonder I turned to illustrating and designing books. For me the book represents the ultimate in graphics: first, as a designer, considering space, page size, number of pages, and type size; then, as an illustrator, dealing with the aesthetics of line, color, and form.
"There were three books that somehow magically came into my possession in the early sixties: The Wind in the Wows, illustrated by Arthur Rackham; The Wonder Clock, illustrated by Howard Pyle; and Rain Makes Applesauce, illustrated by Marvin Bileck. You can see those influences in my art today. Later, my work was greatly influenced by such African American artists as Charles White, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence.
"From the very beginning of my career in illustrating books, research has been important. I do as much as possible on a given subject, so that I live the experience and have a vision of the people and places. To capture a sense of realism for characters in my work, I use models that resemble the people I want to portray. My wife, Gloria Jean (also an author), and I keep a closetful of old clothes to dress up the models, and I have the models act out the story. Photos are taken to aid me in better understanding body language and facial expressions. Once I have that photo in front of me I have freedom, because the more you know, the more you can be inventive.
"For illustrating stories about animals, I keep a large reference file of over a hundred books on nature and animals. The first step in envisioning a creature is for me to pretend to be that particular animal. I think about its size and the sounds it makes, how it moves (slowly or quickly), and where it lives. I try to capture the feeling of the creature, as well as its true-to-life characteristics. There are times when the stories call for the animals to be anthropomorphic, and I've used photographs of myself posing as the animal characters.
"It still amazes me how much the projects I have illustrated have given back to me in terms of personal and artistic satisfaction. They have given me the opportunity to use my imagination, to draw, to paint, to travel through the voices of the characters in the stories, and, above all else, to touch children."