September 2023

A Walk in the Woods

By Nikki Grimes
Nikki Grimes, Brian Pinkney and his late father, Jerry Pinkney, have gifted us a heartbreakingly beautiful picture book about loss and grief.
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When opening an envelope from his recently deceased father, a young boy is confused to only find a map of the woods: “The woods were our place. Why would Dad ask me to go back without him?”

Begrudgingly, the boy laces his hiking boots and begins down the familiar path, along which he is able to recognize several animals—showing how many hours he and his father have spent in the woods. Eventually he comes to a lone chimney, the last remnant of a long gone home. “What was it Dad used to say? There’s always something that remains.” Inside, the boy finds a locked metal box containing drawings and scribbled stories about the forest wildlife.

Nikki Grimes, Brian Pinkney and his late father, Jerry Pinkney, have gifted us a heartbreakingly beautiful picture book about loss and grief. Endnotes explain the creation journey behind A Walk in the Woods (Neal Porter, $18.99, 9780823449651), where life imitated art in an almost unbelievable way. After Jerry’s wife (and celebrated author) Gloria Pinkney asked in 2019 why Jerry and Grimes had never worked together, the two longtime friends began to lay the groundwork for a story featuring an African American child exploring nature.

In October 2021, Jerry died, leaving behind an incredible legacy in children’s literature—but also incomplete artwork for A Walk in the Woods. Brian was given his father’s artwork just a few short weeks after his death, along with an invitation to finish the story his father began. With the help of Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Jerry’s granddaughter and Brian’s niece), Brian began to merge his ethereal watercolor paintings with Jerry’s original line work, in an experience he calls “mysterious and mystical.”

Grimes’ text is full of depth and feeling and combines with the art in a brilliant display of color and life, capturing in detail the animals as well as the boy’s emotions on every page. The cool blues and purples in the beginning feel rife with grief, while the golds and reds of the woods bring a sense of lightness to both the story and the reader, and hints of green signify that life will continue.

A Walk in the Woods is truly an exquisite story of heartbreak and hope. The collaboration between Grimes and both Pinkneys is seamless, as if all were completely of one mind.

On the last page of the book, as the boy gathers his father’s drawings and begins his trek home, he asks, “Can you smile and cry at the same time?” Readers likely will.

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Get the Book

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

By Nikki Grimes
Neal Porter
ISBN 9780823449651

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