A celebration of the extraordinary life of Ezra Jack Keats, creator of The Snowy Day.
The story of The Snowy Day begins more than one hundred years ago, when Ezra Jack Keats was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. The family were struggling Polish immigrants, and despite Keats’s obvious talent, his father worried that Ezra’s dream of being an artist was an unrealistic one. But Ezra was determined. By high school he was winning prizes and scholarships. Later, jobs followed with the WPA and Marvel comics. But it was many years before Keats’s greatest dream was realized and he had the opportunity to write and illustrate his own book.
For more than two decades, Ezra had kept pinned to his wall a series of photographs of an adorable African American child. In Keats’s hands, the boy morphed into Peter, a boy in a red snowsuit, out enjoying the pristine snow; the book became The Snowy Day, winner of the Caldecott Medal, the first mainstream book to feature an African American child. It was also the first of many books featuring Peter and the children of his — and Keats’s — neighborhood.
Andrea Davis Pinkney’s lyrical narrative tells the inspiring story of a boy who pursued a dream, and who, in turn, inspired generations of other dreamers.
This formidable biographical poem pays homage to Ezra Jack Keats while speaking to Peter, the fictional African-American hero of The Snowy Day, the story of a black boy playing in the snow, remarkable among 1960s children's stories in which "the delight/ was all white." Pinkney (Rhythm Ride) goes deeply into Keats's motivations, describing how "Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz," a child of struggling Polish immigrants, progressed from grocery store sign painter in Brooklyn to WPA muralist to comic book artist. After his service as a draftsman in the WWII Air Force, "Ezra did something many Jews did/ when the want ads said:/ No Jews Need Apply' " and changed his name to one that "had a nicer ring to it for some." Pinkney emphasizes that "Discrimination had formed Ezra's/ understanding of what it meant to be/ different./ This also led to you, brown-sugar boy." The character of Peter, warmly addressed as a "cocoa sprite" who is "filled with brown-sugar whimsy," developed from a series of photos of a child that Keats clipped from a 1930s Life magazine. Pinkney describes the snow of Peter's day as "nature's we-all blanket," an inclusive force ("When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten"), while Fancher and Johnson (Shh! Bears Sleeping) mime Keats's collages, creating a gentle ambience for Pinkney's wordplay and confident voice. Though an established classic, The Snowy Day has received renewed attention from the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Pinkney's poem sheds fascinating light on Keats's long-lived achievement. Ages 7 10.