Davis students were among more than 1,000 on hand last week when the UC Davis School of Education celebrated the 10th anniversary of “Words Take Wing” with an appearance by renowned children’s author Andrea Pinkney and her husband, author and illustrator Brian Pinkney.
The students — among them classes from Patwin and Montgomery elementary schools and Holmes Junior High School — were treated to stories, music, book readings and a taste of the creative process both Pinkneys go through in their work.
The couple’s appearance at Freeborn Hall on Thursday followed visits to Sutter Children’s Hospital and the Sacramento Public Library the day before, all part of the annual Words take Wing program, which since 2004 has celebrated children’s literature by showcasing the diversity of stories and characters found in works by authors from different cultures.
Much of the Pinkneys’ work focuses on the African-American experience, with books about Alvin Ailey, Sojourner Truth, freedom fighters and many more. Their book “Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters” won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award in 2001, and the couple’s latest award-winning book is “Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America.”
Thursday, before a packed Freeborn Hall filled with students from not only Davis but also Woodland, Winters, West Sacramento, Vacaville and Sacramento, the couple described the path they’d each taken to their professions.
Brian Pinkney talked about how as a little boy, he never left home without his sketchbook.
“When I was in school, I sketched on everything,” he said, including his schoolwork and homework.
He sketched so much, in fact, that he had trouble completing all his assignments on time, he said. Fortunately, his teachers recognized him as a visual learner, and guided him appropriately.
At home, Brian had his very own art studio.
“Actually, it was a closet,” he said, which his parents had cleaned out and set up a workspace in.
Later he would take art classes and eventually attend an art college. After graduating, he told the students, he became an illustrator.
But even as an accomplished illustrator, he’s still learning, describing for the students how he took a dance class in order to figure out how to illustrate his wife’s story about dancer Alvin Ailey.
And he even started writing stories himself, including his favorite, “Max Found Two Sticks,” about a boy who loved to drum.
“It took me two years to write it,” he said.
His wife, meanwhile, started writing stories in second grade — carrying a notebook with her wherever she went and writing everything down.
In sixth grade, Andrea said, she entered and won her school’s writing contest.
“That made me want to be a writer for the rest of my life,” she said.
Andrea now swims laps every morning and told the students she keeps a notebook beside the pool because so often it’s while she’s swimming that stories come to her.
She described backstroking through the pool when suddenly a voice came to her — “Scat Cat,” who began telling the story of Ella Fitzgerald.
“I was so happy I had my notebook by the pool because I could write down everything he said,” she told the students, each of whom had been given a notebook and pen when they arrived in case they wanted to do the same.
In addition to describing how they go about writing a story or drawing a picture, the Pinkneys also answered students’ questions, which varied from what their inspiration was to how many books they’ve written.
For the record, Andrea has written more than 30 books and Brian has written seven and illustrated 43.
Learn more about Brian’s work at www.brianpinkney.net/main.html and Andrea’s at www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/andrea-davis-pinkney
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy