Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is the fourth picture book I have written and illustrated. It was published in 2014 by Abrams Books For Young Readers. The book tells the true story of an American girl of Mexican and Puerto-Rican descent who was not allowed to go to a white only school in California in the 1940’s. Segregation of Mexican-American and Latino children was prevalent throughout the Southwest at the time. Sylvia’s family did not think this was fair. Her parents organized a group of parents and then filed a lawsuit that eventually ended segregated schooling in California.
Most people are not familiar with this story. But its a very important piece of American history. Some of the people involved the Mendez case were involved years later in the landmark case, Brown vs Board of Education. The Mendez family truly paved the way for the desegregation of schools in the entire country.
The research for my book comes from several sources. I read books and articles, watched documentaries and I was able to hear Sylvia herself speak on a couple of occasions. She is very kind and I was also able to do some informal interviews with her. I was also able to find court transcripts. Some of the dialogue in the book comes directly from them.
I think Sylvia’s story is very relevant today. Although it is illegal to segregate children in public schools because of their race or background there is a lot of division and a kind of segregation that is happening nowadays. A recent study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA showed that segregation has increased in the last decade. 43% of Latino and 38% African-American children attend schools where less then 10% of the students are white. Latino and African-Americans are twice as likely to be in a school where the majority of children are poor. Therefore their schools tend to have less resources.
The artwork in the book is inspired by Pre-Columbian art. I draw by hand but then I scan the images and collaged them digitally. You can see some of my process and inspiration in these videos: https://youtu.be/5dqFLg22Z_0 and https://youtu.be/HL-op6gx1Mc
The book has been very well received. It won the 2015 Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award and it received honorable mentions from the Pura Belpré Award, the Sibert Award and the Orbis Pictus Award. The Anti-Defamation League created a wonderful Book Discussion Guide for it. You can download it here.
My website has more information about all of my books.
Just as I began this post, the first copies of the paperback edition of The Great Trouble arrived on my doorstep. I love when my books become available in this more affordable format for young readers and their families. And I’m especially pleased about this for The Great Trouble because of the timely nature of its subject matter. Continue reading
My book, Beyond the Door, features characters from Celtic legends that invade the lives of three quirky middle school students. The coming-of- age quest is the first installment in the Time Out of Time series and will be followed by The Telling Stone in May 2015. Continue reading
Africa is my home. I long to be there. Although I am in America, yet my heart is there. The people I love and the country I admire…
-From a December 18, 1847 letter by Sarah while she was at Oberlin
“Books give me a great feeling of personal and artistic satisfaction. When I’m working on a book, I wish the phone would never ring. I love doing it. My satisfaction comes from the actual marks on the paper, and when it sings, it’s magic.”
(Jerry Pinkney, on Putnam Penguin website, 2007)
Jerry Pinkney is the author/illustrator of over 75 books for young people. His colored pencil and watercolors bring animals and children to life with an ebullience of spirit that is both contagious and inspiring, while also presenting true artistic rendering of historical and fictional events that readers of all ages can enjoy. Recently at the Tucson Festival of Books, Pinkney shared that his books allow him to grow as a person, and I would note they have also allowed him to grow as both an artist and as a connoisseur of what will delight readers of all ages.
Pinkney received the Caldecott Award for The Lion and the Mouse (2009), a marvelous story of strength and beneficence that uses eight words and a series of astounding illustrations to tell the story of how a mighty lion receives help from a tiny mouse. Prior to winning the Caldecott Award, he was the recipient of five Caldecott Honor Awards, the most recent for Noah’s Ark (2003), but you should look at all five as they are truly remarkable. He also won three Coretta Scott King Awards and two Honor Awards for Illustration. My personal favorite from those five is Mirandy and Brother Wind (1989), which is a book that touches me aesthetically as both a reader and an amateur artist.
Pinkney’s most recent books include Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (2011); Puss in Boots (2012); and The Further Adventures of Spider (2012). Joyful, joyful, joyful! Forthcoming is The Tortoise and the Hare (2013), which adds to the corpus of Pinkney’s other works on fables that are still timely and pleasurable to read. As a youngster Jerry worked at a newsstand, where he would sketch people who caught his eye. He noted this memory at the Tucson Festival of Books, along with the possibility of it becoming more present in one of his future endeavors.
Whatever Jerry Pinkney decides to do, he has a waiting audience. His books continue to inspire so many readers young and old, and I know that when I am able to move through The Tortoise and the Hare—his next work of art—I will be catching my breath! His work is that incredible.