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Andrea Davis Pinkney (1963-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1963, in Washington, DC; Education: Syracuse University, B.A. (journalism), 1985. Hobbies and other interests: Singing, dance.


Office—Houghton Mifflin, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.


Editor and children's book writer. Editor at various magazines; editor at Scholastic, Inc., New York, NY; Essence Magazine, New York, NY, senior editor; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, NY, children's book editor; Hyperion Books for Children, New York, NY, senior editor and head of Jump at the Sun imprint, 1997-99, executive editor, 1999-2002; Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY, vice president and publisher of juvenile division, 2002—.


Honors Awards

Best Arts Feature award, Highlights for Children Foundation, 1992; Parenting Publication award, 1993; Pick of the List designation, American Booksellers, 1993, for Seven Candles for Kwanzaa; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1994, for Dear Benjamin Banneker; Notable Book citations, Society of School Librarians International, and American Library Association, both 1996, both for Bill Picket: Rodeo Ridin' Cowboy; Coretta Scott King award, 1999, and Caldecott Honor citation, both for Duke Ellington.



Alvin Ailey, illustrated by husband, Brian Pinkney, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1993.

Seven Candles for Kwanzaa, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.

Dear Benjamin Banneker, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.

Bill Picket: Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1996.

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.


I Smell Honey, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Pretty Brown Face, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Solo Girl, illustrated by Nneka Bennett, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

Shake, Shake, Shake, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Watch Me Dance, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Mim's Christmas Jam, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.

Abraham Lincoln: Letters from a Slave Girl, Winslow Press (Delray Beach, FL), 2001.

Fishing Day, illustrated by Shane Evans, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2003.

Sleeping Cutie, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Gulliver (Orlando, FL), 2004.


Hold Fast to Dreams, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.

Raven in a Dove House, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.

Silent Thunder, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.


(Selector) Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jump Back, Honey (poems) Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1999.

Also contributor of articles to periodicals, including New York Times, Executive Female, Black Enterprise, and Highlights for Children.


Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald have been recorded as audio books and adapted as video recordings. Abraham Lincoln and Silent Thunder have been recorded as audio books.


Andrea Davis Pinkney celebrates the heritage of African Americans through her work as a book editor and writer of fiction and nonfiction for young people. During her editorial career Pinkney published the works of such black authors as Julius Lester, Quincy Troupe, Toni Morrison, and Veronica Chambers through Hyperion Books' Jump at the Sun imprint focusing on black culture. An award-winning writer in her own right, Pinkney adds to her credits such books as Bill Picket: Rodeo Ridin' Cowboy, Seven Candles for Kwanzaa, and Alvin Ailey, each of which feature illustrations by Pinkney's husband, Caldecott award-winning artist Brian Pinkney.

Born in 1963 and raised in Connecticut, Pinkney enjoyed reading and writing stories throughout her school-age years. After graduating from high school she attended Syracuse University, where she graduated in journalism in the mid-1980s. For her first job she worked as editor of a home-decorating magazine. From there she moved to Essence, a publication geared toward African-American women, where Pinkney headed the modern living section and wrote feature articles on family life, travel, and history. A move to book publishing found Pinkney working first at Simon & Schuster and Scholastic before signing on with Hyperion Books for Children. At Hyperion, Pinkney promoted the works of African-American authors, gaining praise within the publishing industry and providing young black readers with books that promote and extol the many positive aspects of their heritage.

Many of Pinkney's books have been biographies of notable African Americans. Her first published book, Alvin Ailey, profiles the life of the pioneering dancer and choreographer who founded an internationally renowned dance troupe that explores the black experience through movement. Beginning with Ailey's boyhood in Texas, the book lets readers follow Ailey as he pursues his dream of being a dancer as he becomes inspired by modern dancer Katherine Dunham, moves to New York to study with Martha Graham, and founds the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Praising the work of Pinkney in her Five Owls review, contributor Leslie Tryon commented that Alvin Ailey "makes a strong point for where an artist finds profound inspiration—where one artistic genius found one very powerful idea."

In Dear Benjamin Banneker Pinkney details the adult accomplishments of Banneker, a free black man who, in the eighteenth century, became an accomplished scientist, compiled an almanac, and corresponded with such influential figures as Thomas Jefferson. Basing her work on research done at Banneker's home town of Oella, Maryland, she focuses on Banneker's career as a tobacco farmer, his exploration of astronomy, and his work involving publishing and distributing his almanac. Of particular interest is Pinkney's mention of Banneker's chastisement of Jefferson for keeping slaves, a contradiction of the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence the southern statesman had helped author. In her Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review, Deborah Stevenson called Dear Benjamin Banneker "a compact evocation of the integrity and talent of a man who rose above the constraints of his era."

With Stephen Alcorn, Pinkney presents a collection of biographies in Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters. Covering the lives of ten different women, from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks, Pinkney details the achievements that led these women to be remembered in history. Though noting that she felt the text is occasionally overwritten, Susan P. Bloom concluded in Horn Book that "Pinkney rises to moments of linguistic power." Marie Orlando wrote in School Library Journal that "this excellent collection is a must for every library," while Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman deemed the book's "tone … inspirational" and the volume "a natural for reading aloud."

Pinkney and her husband have also produced two biographies of jazz virtuosos: Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa. Both of these titles trace the course of the musicians' lives and the factors that eventually brought them fame. Duke Ellington received a Caldecott Honor award and won the Coretta Scott King award. In School Library Journal critic Beth Tegart described the writing as "a swingy conversational tone" that carries "the auditory experiences of the Duke's music right off the page."

For Ella Fitzgerald Pinkney collaborates with fictional co-writer and narrator Scat Cat Monroe, who claims he was there from the very beginning and saw it all first hand. "Using Scat Cat as the narrator allows easy access for younger readers, and his in-the-know voice will win over older ones," commented a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, commenting on Pinkney's inventive use of jazz language to tell the story, concluded that the title is a "'skippity-ho-doo-dee-bop' picture book," while Gillian Engberg, writing for Booklist, advised, "Cue up the music and read this one out LOUD." Shauna Yusko, writing in School Library Journal assured readers that "this beautifully rendered tribute to the 'Vocal Virtuosa' will be a welcome addition in all libraries."

Pinkney takes great pains to research each of her biography subjects. For Alvin Ailey she met with Ailey's mother, as well as with several family members, and used their input to bring Ailey to life. As Janelle B. Mathis reported in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Pinkney augments her library research with trips to view "her subject's art and interviews close family members or acquaintances in order to place her subjects within the larger context of the African-American experience."

Pinkney draws from her own family's tradition in Seven Candles for Kwanzaa, as she presents readers with a description of the week-long holiday celebration that, while newly created, has its roots in Africa. One of the first books to focus on the holiday, Seven Candles presents not only the day-to-day rituals making up the Kwanzaa tradition, but also the holiday's origin, the beliefs it incorporates, and the Swahili terms used to describe its many aspects. She discusses the seven principles celebrated for each day of Kwanzaa, and the ceremonies or rituals involved. Roger Sutton praised the book in Booklist as a "simple" and "friendly introduction to what still may be a 'new' holiday to both children and adults."

Pinkney also writes fiction for a variety of age groups. In Shake, Shake, Shake, part of "Red Wagon," a four-volume series for toddlers, Pinkney tells the story of a family making music using a rhythmic text to introduce young listeners to shekere, a percussive instrument from Africa. In Watch Me Dance, rhythm again plays a prominent role, this time through the dance steps created by a young girl performing for her entranced, playpen-bound little brother. Sleeping Cutie is another title for very young readers and listeners; the story features Cutie LaRue, who is incredibly good at avoiding her bedtime. Her parents are at wit's end until they purchase a talking owl toy guaranteed to help any child sleep. At first, Cutie is unimpressed, but after her parents go to bed, the owl comes to life and takes her to a night club where she can dance with her other dolls. Ajoke' T. I. Kokodoko, writing for School Library Journal, considered the book a "satisfying read-aloud for little insomniacs," while Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan called the title "a fanciful romp for the 'I can't sleep' set."

Mim's Christmas Jam is a picture book for younger readers with a focus on history. Set in 1915, the story tells of how Pap is off working in New York City to build the subway system while Mim and the children are staying at their Pennsylvania home for Christmas. Pap is sure not to get Christmas off, so Mim and the children pack up a jar of Mim's famous "belly-hum jam" to make his Christmas a little less lonely. Pap shares his jam with his coworkers and his foremen, who, after eating the jam, decide to let everyone travel home for Christmas after all. A School Library Journal contributor considered the book "a satisfying slice of life with a rich and delicious message." Cynthia Turnquest, writing for Booklist, praised Pinkney's as a "heartwarming tale" and noted that the recipe for belly-hum jam is included at the end of the book. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews concluded that "the Pinkneys have again succeeded in presenting a lesser-known aspect of African-American history as a moving, sensitive story with which young readers can identify."

Pinkney has also contributed a title to the "Dear President" series, a set of books featuring the correspondence of a United States president with a fictional child of his era. In Abraham Lincoln: Letters from a Slave Girl, Lettie Tucker is a twelve-year-old slave; the daughter of the plantation owner has secretly taught her how to read and write, and encourages Lettie to begin writing to the president. Both Lettie and Lincoln exchange details about their own lives, as well as discussing the issues of slavery as Lettie urges him to free the slaves. The title "raises interesting issues about slavery that are relevant to present-day discussions on race relations," noted Marilyn Ackerman in her School Library Journal review. While some critics noted that readers should be reminded that these titles are, in fact, fiction, Chris Sherman in Booklist considered "the premise … interesting, the research connections useful, and the letters thought provoking." Mary Burkey, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, termed it "a well-researched work of historical fiction for intermediate-aged" readers.

Fishing Day also combines historic detail with a tale about two children who learn to see eye to eye, despite their racial difference. Reenie and her mother enjoy fishing, and they are good at it, in part because Reenie's mother knows a special trick: using a kernel of corn for bait. Peter and his father also fish, but they fish in order to have enough food. The two families often fish at the same river, but they never speak, because Reenie and her mother are black while Peter and his father are white. One day after Reenie and her mother have a particularly successful catch, Reenie realizes that Peter and his father have not had any luck. When Peter is alone, she finds a way to let him know about the trick using corn kernels. "This heart-warming story has broad appeal and ends on a hopeful note; the children are no longer the strangers they once were," explained Mary N. Oluonye in her School Library Journal review. A contributor to Publishers Weekly called Fishing Day "a quiet, message-driven story," while a critic for Kirkus Reviews termed it "a gentle tale with a big punch."

Pinkney also writes young-adult novels based on her personal experiences as a pre-teen. In Hold Fast to Dreams, published in 1996, protagonist Deirdre Willis makes a move from the city of Baltimore to the suburbs of Connecticut and becomes the only black student in the Wexford Middle School. Picking up the nickname "Camera Dee" because of her passion for photography, twelve-year-old Dee finds that her talent as well as her personal determination enable her to fit into her new surroundings. New York Times Book Review contributor Enola G. Aird called the novel "a solid, believable tale about a loving and supportive family." While praising Pinkney's themes of "persistence" and "maintaining self-esteem," in Hold Fast to Dreams, Jacqueline Rose also noted in her review for School Library Journal that Pinkney's first novel presents "a positive portrait of strong relationships with characters that are likeable, if a bit too ideal."

Another novel for older readers, Raven in a Dove House chronicles the events of one of the many Augusts that twelve-year-old Nell Grady spends with her favorite great-aunt Ursa in a small town in upstate New York. This particular year everything seems fine at first. Nell enjoys hanging around with her older cousin, Foley, and his flirtatious friend Slade Montgomery, until the boys ask her to hide a Raven. 25 caliber handgun in her dollhouse. Nell's decision ultimately plays out tragically when Slade is shot dead and Foley disappears, leaving Nell to comfort her devastated aunt. "Pinkney's characters emerge complex and real in this tale of hometown pride and family loyalty," declared a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

Commenting on Pinkney's dedication and overall contribution to children's literature in St. James Guide to Children's Literature, Mathis noted that the author's "rich descriptions of people, historical and geographical eras, the movement and emotional quality of various arts, and the use of colorful language variations vividly convey [Pinkney's] … message. Without sacrificing the complexity or authenticity of the lives she shares, Pinkney makes her work accessible to young readers."

Biographical and Critical Sources


St. James Guide to Children's Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Black Issues Book Review, January, 2001, Kalilah Shambry, review of Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, p. 23; September-October, 2002, Lynda Jones, review of Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa, p. 58.

Booklist, October, 1993, Roger Sutton, review of Seven Candles for Kwanzaa, p. 55; November 1, 1996, p. 504; February 15, 1998, p. 1000; June 1, 1998, p. 1757; November 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, p. 637; July, 2001, Cindy Lombardo, review of Duke Ellington, p. 2027, and Lolly Gepson, review of Silent Thunder: A Civil War Story, p. 2029; September 1, 2001, Chris Sherman, review of Abraham Lincoln: Letters from a Slave Girl, p. 107; September 15, 2001, Cynthia Turnquest, review of Mim's Christmas Jam, p. 236; April 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 1338; May 1, 2003, Jean Hatfield, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 1609; November 1, 2003, Sue-Ellen Beauregard, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 518; November 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Fishing Day, p. 602; September 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sleeping Cutie, p. 254.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of Dear Benjamin Banneker, p. 100; May, 1995, p. 320.

Five Owls, January/February, 1994, Leslie Tyron, review of Alvin Ailey, p. 60.

Horn Book, March-April, 1994, p. 221; November, 2000, Susan P. Bloom, review of Let It Shine, p. 770; November-December, 2003, Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 773.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1994, p. 1414; February 15, 1998, p. 272; September 15, 2001, review of Mim's Christmas Jam, p. 1365; April 1, 2002, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 497; November 1, 2003, review of Fishing Day, p. 1313; September 1, 2004, review of Sleeping Cutie, p. 873.

New York Times Book Review, June 4, 1995, Enola G. Aird, review of Hold Fast to Dreams, p. 29; November 10, 1996, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly, February 2, 1998, review of Raven in a Dove House, p. 91; September 24, 2001, review of Mim's Christmas Jam, p. 50; March 11, 2002, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 72; November, 2003, review of Fishing Day, p. 74;.

Reading Today, February-March, 2004, Lynne T. Burke, review of Fishing Day, p. 28.

School Library Journal, October, 1993, p. 47; November, 1994, p. 100; April, 1995, Jacqueline Rose, review of Hold Fast to Dreams, p. 136; October, 1996, p. 116; May, 1998, Beth Tegart, review of Duke Ellington, p. 136; October, 2000, Marie Orlando, review of Let It Shine, p. 190; April, 2001, Edith Ching, review of Silent Thunder, p. 92; September, 2001, Marilyn Ackerman, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 232; October, 2001, review of Mim's Christmas Jam, p. 68; May, 2002, Shauna Yusko, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 142; June, 2002, "Houghton Taps New Children's Book Publisher; Editor and Award-winning Writer of Children's Books Leaves Disney's Hyperion," p. 23; May, 2003, Mary Burkey, review of Abraham Lincoln, p. 76; September, 2003, Shauna Yusko, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 70; December, 2003, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Fishing Day, p. 122; October, 2004, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Fishing Day and Let It Shine, pp. 65-66; November, 2004, Ajoke' T. I. Kokodoko, review of Sleeping Cutie, p. 114; December, 2004, Ginny Gustin, review of Ella Fitzgerald, p. 60.


SCBWI Los Angeles Web site, http://www.scbwisocial.org/ (April 3, 2005), "Andrea Davis Pinkney."*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - Personal