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A Walk in the Woods
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
Neal Porter Books / Holiday House, September 12, 2023
hardcover ISBN 978-0823449651

SEVEN Starred Reviews

About the Book

In this moving account of loss, a boy takes a walk in the woods and makes a discovery that changes his understanding of his father.

A week after the funeral
I stare in the morning mirror
Angry that my father's eyes
Stare back at me.

Confused and distraught after the death of his father, a boy opens an envelope he left behind and is surprised to find a map of the woods beyond their house, with one spot marked in bright red. But why? The woods had been something they shared together, why would his father want him to go alone?

Slowly, his mind settles as he sets off through the spaces he once explored with his dad, passing familiar beech and black oak trees, flitting Carolina wrens, and a garter snake they named Sal. When he reaches the spot marked on the map, he finds pages upon pages of drawings of woodland creatures, made by his father when he was his age. What he sees shows him a side of his dad he never knew, and something even deeper for them share together. His dad knew what he really needed was a walk in the woods.

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes and the Caldecott Award winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney spent the early days of the pandemic emailing back and forth and talking about collaborating on a book, with Jerry sharing all of the pictures he took of the woods around his house. From this, they conjured a story of a boy's struggle with grief, and all the things he sees and feels on a walk through the forest.

Jerry sadly passed away in the fall of 2021, but not before he delivered tight pencil sketches of the forests he loved. When his son Brian took on the task of completing the illustrations, he found himself connecting with his father in a whole new way, his experience mirroring that of the boy in the book. The result is a simultaneously touching and deeply authentic story about the ways shared pastimes keep us close to those we've lost.


"Finishing Jerry Pinkney's Books," Antonia Saxon, Publishers Weekly, 16 Feb 2023

"Children's Institute 2023: Nikki Grimes and Brian Pinkney Collaborate in A Walk in the Woods," Antonia Saxon, Publishers Weekly, 19 May 2023


"Ci2023 Keynote with Nikki Grimes and Brian Pinkney: Tough Topics for Tender Readers," BookED, American Booksellers Association podcast, as recorded 7 June 2023 at Children's Institute in Milwaukee


In an elegantly collaborative picture book about how "there's always something that remains," Grimes (Bedtime for Sweet Creatures), the late Jerry Pinkney (The Lion and the Mouse), and Brian Pinkney (Hey Otter! Hey Beaver!) center a grieving Black narrator following his beloved father's death. A week after the funeral, the child, questioning aloud ("Why did he have to leave?"), opens an envelope left behind and finds a map of the nearby woods that he and his dad often explored—"with a marked spot, he finds a locked box, and inside, a sheaf of illustrations and poems about woodland animals—all created by his father at the child's age, and all revealed in detail for the reader. Meditatively commanding text accompanies structural sketches that Jerry Pinkney completed before his death as well as loose, forest-hued wash overlays from Brian Pinkney. It's a powerfully layered call to creativity and loving bonds that endure beyond death: "I close my eyes, and feel Dad next to me, his hand on my shoulder, light as leaves." Creators' notes conclude. (Publishers Weekly, starred review)


A multi-layered tale of loss. A Black boy opens an envelope from his recently deceased father and finds a treasure map marked with a red X. Disappointed his dad hasn’t left him a letter, the boy puts on his hiking boots and reluctantly enters the woods. As he walks along the Hudson, he sees animals and notices reminders of the Mohicans, the original inhabitants of this land. Entering the ruins of a house, he finds a metal box in the brick fireplace and opens it with a key that has mysteriously appeared in his pocket. Inside, he finds a treasure trove of drawings of the natural world and an invitation to honor his father’s artistic legacy. Grimes’ quiet yet potent verse captures not only the boy’s loss, but also the memories his father has left behind. In a moving author’s note, she discusses her decadeslong friendship with Jerry Pinkney, who completed sketches for the book before he died in 2021; in an illustrator’s note, Brian Pinkney describes how he completed the artwork and explains that this story mirrors his own experience of grappling with his father’s death. Brian’s stunning, opalescent watercolors closely resemble Jerry’s but include the circular patterns and movement characteristic of his own illustrations. Together, Grimes and the Pinkneys have produced a profoundly stirring and thought-provoking musing on how the ones we love never really leave us. Joy and hope walk alongside sadness and grief in this unforgettable work. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)


Grimes and Jerry Pinkney decided to collaborate on a book in which
Black characters engage with nature. Grimes wrote the free verse text, which tells the story concisely, while expressing the boy’s shifting emotions beautifully. Before his death in 2021, Jerry Pinkney finished the detailed, engaging drawings, which reflect his love for the natural world. Afterwards, his son Brian Pinkney was asked to add the watercolor washes, which have a distinctive, ethereal quality that enhances the story. An original, inspiring picture book. (Carolyn Phelan, Booklist, starred review)


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. (Callie Ann Starkey, BookPage, starred review)


A week after his father’s funeral, a young boy finds that his grief is still cloaked in anger, and he’s even more upset when the envelope his father left behind contains a map rather than the letter of goodbye or note of wisdom that the boy was hoping for. Nonetheless, he straps on his hiking boots and heads into the forest, following his father’s guidance to the large X that points to a supposed treasure. The walk is a balm to his pain as he takes in the quiet energy of nature, but true comfort comes from the treasure his father leads him to: a bundle of dad’s sketches and stories about the forest and its denizens, all drawn by the father when he was the boy’s current age. Grimes’ lyrical, skillful text evokes the deep, painful well of the boy’s sorrow yet manages to balance that angst with the wonder and joy he finds along his walk, highlighting the complexity of grief within a constantly changing natural world that relies on both life and death to continue. The author and illustrator notes add another layer of poignancy, as the book started as a collaboration between Grimes and Jerry Pinkney but was finished after his passing with the help of his son Brian Pinkney and granddaughter Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. The artistic collaboration is a true wonder, as Jerry’s signature thin, sketchy linework is brought to life by Brian’s radiant, swirling watercolors, creating a splendid mix of energy and delicacy that complements Grimes’ text with ease. This could be paired with Jerry Pinkney’s Just Jerry (BCCB 01/23) for a look at the author/illustrator’s life and legacy, or with Mountford’s The Circles in the Sky (BCCB 07/22) for an interpretation of grief through the natural world.  (Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review)


Shortly after his father’s death, a boy opens an envelope his father left him to find a map of the woods with a bright red X marking a destination. Still coping with his loss, he sets out on the path he and his father had taken on their walks through the woods near home. Along the way, the familiarity of trees, creatures, and a Mohican water storage house softens his sorrow while he reminisces about their conversations. At the marked spot, he discovers a metal box filled with sketches of wildlife and unfinished stories created by his father when he was the boy’s age. The last page is blank with a note to the boy: “Draw and write your own story. I’ll always be watching.” Grimes’s celebration of nature is as eloquent as her treatment of loss is poignant. Brian Pinkney’s watercolor illustrations are equally expressive. This book began as a collaboration between Grimes and Jerry Pinkney; following Jerry’s death in 2021, Brian joined Grimes to complete his father’s illustrations, adding color to Jerry’s tight sketches. Appended notes from Grimes and Brian Pinkney share their respective personal experiences with the collaboration. A touching testament to the power of memories to sustain those in grief. (Pauletta Brown Bracy, The Horn Book, starred review)


The joy in discovering that three greats of children's literature—Nikki Grimes (a recipient of the 2022 Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award and 2017 Children's Literature Legacy Award), 2010 Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney, and 2000 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award-winner Brian Pinkney—collaborated on a picture book is tempered only by the fact that one of them is gone. Jerry Pinkney had created initial sketches for Grimes's tender and evocative picture book text, A Walk in the Woods. Brian Pinkney writes in a closing note that he began to complete the illustrations "just weeks after the passing of my beloved father," by adding watercolors (with a digital assist from his niece, illustrator Charnelle Pinkney Barlow).

As a reminder that life often imitates art, the story is about a boy grieving the death of his father. The child discovers a note his father left for him suggesting he take a walk in the woods to find "treasure." The boy, who struggles with anger over the loss, wonders why his father would suggest he go alone: "the woods were our place." To his surprise, the treasure that awaits him is a metal box, filled with "sketches of life on and above the forest floor," each one accompanied by an "unfinished story." The boy realizes that these pieces of art were made by his father when he was the age the boy is now.

Though this discovery brings the boy comfort (he feels as if his father is with him, and his "heart feels lighter, too"), it is the trek through the woods that provides much-needed peace. Spotting Sal the garter snake at the start of his journey reminds the boy to "Slow down! Pay attention!"—as if the woods are reminding him that working through grief will take time. Grimes captures the woods' sensory delights with precision and lyricism: it's the "soft song" of a Carolina wren; the "explosion of flight" that is an eagle spreading its wings; and the "quiet" of the woods that console the boy. With each step he takes, "the hurt inside my heart pounds less, and less." To see Jerry's sketches lit by Brian's dazzling colors (many spreads shine with gleaming golden yellows) and swirling lines is wondrous. The eagle spread and one depicting an "ancient stone water storage house left centuries ago by a tribe of the Mohican Nation" are breathtaking studies in light and movement. This exceptional story stands as a moving account of a Black boy finding solace in nature—but also serves as a marvelous tribute to Jerry Pinkney. (Julie Danielson, Shelf Awareness, starred review)


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