Books Early Readers Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Nonfiction Picture Books Picture Books that Sing Reading Themes

God Bless the Child by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr as illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

"Yes the strong get smart While the weak ones fade Empty pockets don't ever make the grade"

Myra here.

Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr’s God Bless the Child was the inspiration for multi-awarded Illustrator Jerry Pinkney’s Picture Book interpretation of this enduring jazz masterpiece.

Each page in the book which contains around four or five lines from the song are veritable works of art in themselves – the rich yet muted, subtle yet powerful evocative images take you back to a different time. The jacket flap effectively summarizes the illustrations that the book holds in its pages:

“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.”

As you can see from some of the photos that I have taken of the book, the illustrations show the striking contrast between what life is like in the country as opposed to the hustle and bustle of city life with their fancy cars and “rich relations” who give but “don’t take too much!”

Jerry Pinkney, who won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for Most Distinguished Picture Book for his The Lion and The Mouse, also has a lengthy Artist’s Note found at the last few pages of the book. Here he talked about The Great Migration which started around 1900 and continued ‘til the 1950s. I was just thinking that this book is perfect for history teachers who would like to showcase this particular period in world history (with special emphasis on the history of the US) with their students. I believe that each page speaks volumes about what was happening during the time: from the gender-segregated occupations that men and women are supposed to have, the lifestyles that people led, the resilience and hard work of a “proud and industrious” group of people who love their music, their singing and their dancing. The book is a stunning visual art masterpiece whereby each page (paintings in and of themselves) would engender asubstantial amount of conversation, discussion, debate from the students or from your own children. Truth be told, you can spend hours just looking at each of the moving images that are like narration in themselves set against a perfect backdrop of Billie Holiday’s music. Jerry Pinkney’s Artist’s Note ends with this powerful message:

“This story ends in a classroom. At the time ‘God Bless the Child’ was written, education was largely a privilege of the wealthy. Children of the poor were expected to work alongside their parents to put food on the table, and for a child of the Great Migration, going to school would have seemed like a dream come true. Free public education was prized as the great equalizer – the stairway out of poverty for those with the courage and the opportunity to climb it.”

I believe the message is timeless and it effectively conveys some of the things that young children and teenagers are enjoying now, yet with a total disregard of how it was earned in the first place. This picture book is an effective medium to remind our youth, regardless of race, gender, color, religious background – of this long history of pain, suffering, resilience and redemption. And the wealth that is good education.

To know more about Jerry Pinkney, his picture books for children, and his multiple awards (he’s a five-time winner of both the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award) from the 60s til the present time, click here to be taken to his website.

And so before this fine Sunday afternoon officially ends, let’s listen to Jazz Mistress Billie Holiday herself as she belts out the enduring, the classic, her masterpiece God Bless the Child.

References for the Images:
God Bless the Child cover:
Official website of Jerry Pinkney
List of all Jerry Pinkney’s children’s book
Billie Holiday Picture:
Jerry Pinkney Photo
Book photos were taken by me
Book borrowed from the Community Library

God Bless the Child by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr

Amazon | Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “God Bless the Child by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr as illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

  1. Pingback: The Man with the Strength of a Steam-Powered Hammer: “John Henry” by Julius Lester with Pictures by Jerry Pinkney |

  2. Pingback: On Folktales and Faces of Good and Evil: The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci and Pictures by Jerry Pinkney |

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