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Second Graders Learn About Tenacity and Resilience During Visit to Katonah Art Museum

This week, Morse second graders had the opportunity to experience the transformational power of art during a class-wide trip to the Katonah Art Museum.  The students learned about Illustrator Jerry Pinkney, viewed his watercolors and sketches, and then had the opportunity to take the paintbrush into their own hands to create watercolors inspired by his work.  

Tenacity and Resilience: The Art of Jerry Pinkney is an exhibit featuring more than 80 illustrations and drawings for children's books that he created between 1979-2020. Undiagnosed with dyslexia as a child, Mr. Pinkney learned at an early age how to draw to express himself. His grandfather worked at a pencil factory so he was never without a pencil in his hand which, he would say, allowed him to feel like he had control in his world.  One student related to expression through art, saying, “It is hard to read, but I like how Mr. Pinkney showed us that art can tell stories, too.”

Mr. Pinkney made it his life's work to represent people of color. Telling tough stories about social justice, civil rights, and re-telling famous fables, he depicted children and adults with brown skin in his illustrations. The docents explained that, as a child, Mr. Pinkney imagined that the children in stories he heard had skin the same color as his, but was then surprised to learn that they did not  Mr. Pinkney made it his mission to give voice to the under-represented saying that he wanted all children to be able to see themselves reflected in the pages in the pages of a book.

Mr. Pinkney’s re-telling of the Little Mermaid reimagined the young mermaid named Melody in search of a friend, both of whom are Black.  The re-telling sparked in-depth conversation about self-advocating with the very important lesson that Mr. Pinkney hoped to share: “Never give away your voice.’  A student named Marli astutely commented, “With his paintings he wanted to show more kids of color like him. His paintings are so special and beautiful.”

“It is truly amazing the way the students make connections between the art and the world, and many aspects of Mr. Pinkney’s life resonate with them” said Morse teacher Ms. Vargas. “And they love learning that he created most of his art locally in Croton.’

After touring the museum, the students had the opportunity to create their own watercolors ‘illustrating words’ from Mr. Pinkney’s  book I Want To Be. Prompted by sentences from the book, the young illustrators took inspiration from key words like wind, butterflies, and celebrate. “I am making a ballerina dancing in the wind,” stated Kelsey. One group of 2nd graders drew parties featuring disco balls, pizza and a disc jockey. 

Teacher Ms. Miles was impressed by the creative watercolors her students produced. Grinning, the teacher said, “The students are truly inspired when they meet and learn about authors and illustrators and it is fantastic how they respond wanting to put forth their own work.”

The children also learned how Mr. Pinkney’s art is displayed - in dim rooms to protect the watercolors from fading and on darker walls so they pop. Asking many questions, the children want to learn more about his story, and how he became such an accomplished and inspirational illustrator.

Mr. Pinkney had hoped that his hard work, and life story, would be a lesson to the children who saw his illustrations and read his books. His mantra that we all need to have tenacity and resilience, try and try and never give up will surely stay with the Morse second graders.