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Children's Books

In God's NameThe Snowy Day

by Ezra Jack Keats
Publication: The Viking Press, 1962

Ages K-5

 

Published in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement in America,Snowy Day went on to become an inspiration for generations of readers, transforming children’s literature forever. Ezra Keats wrote and illustrated more than 20 children’s books. Most featured African American children - at a time when that was unheard of The Snowy Day, a 1963 Caldecott Medal winner, is the simple tale of a boy waking up to discover that snow has fallen during the night. Keats's illustrations, using cut-outs, watercolors, and collage, are strikingly beautiful in their understated color and composition. The tranquil story mirrors the calm presence of the paintings, and both exude the silence of a freshly snow-covered landscape. The little boy celebrates the snow-draped city with a day of humble adventures--experimenting with footprints, knocking snow from a tree, creating snow angels, and trying to save a snowball for the next day. Awakening to a winter wonderland is an ageless, ever-magical experience, and one made nearly visceral by Keats's gentle tribute.


The book is notable not only for its lovely artwork and tone, but also for its importance as a trailblazer. According to Horn Book magazine, The Snowy Day was "the very first full-color picture book to feature a small black hero"--yet another reason to add this classic to your shelves. It's as unique and special as a snowflake.


About Ezra Jack Keats

The author and illustrator was born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn in 1916. His parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants and very poor. Primarily self-taught, he drew upon memories of growing up in East New York, one of the most deprived neighborhoods in the city. Yet his work transcends the personal and reflects the universal concerns of children.


Keats’s experience of antisemitism and poverty in his youth gave him a lifelong sympathy for others who suffered prejudice and want. “If,” he once remarked, “we all could really see (‘see’ as perceive, understand, discover) each other exactly as the other is, this would be a different world.” A visit to Keats’s neighborhood is restorative: Peter and his friends remind us of the simple joy of being alive.


Ezra Jack Keat's Illustrations

Inspired by Asian art and haiku poetry, Keats used lush color in his paintings and collages and strove for simplicity in his texts. He was often more intent on capturing a mood than developing a plot. “Each drawing is considered not in itself, but in relationship to the rest of the book,” he explained, while keeping in mind “drama, continuity, contrast, and mood.” His preferred format was the horizontal double-page spread, which freed him to alternate close-up scenes with panoramic views. In his illustrations Keats makes dilapidated urban settings beautiful through his mastery of collage as well as his dramatic use of color. By the end of his life in 1983, he had illustrated over eighty books, most of them for children, twenty-two of which he also authored.

 

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