Lynn: This story, my children, begins long ago when I was taking my very first library science class, Introduction to Literature for Children. We were required to read and take notes on a multitude of books during the semester and I was eagerly beginning my work with the picture books list. And there he was, the “brown sugar boy” walking across the snow in his bright red snowsuit.
Picture books had come a long way since my own childhood, and I fell head over heels in love with The Snowy Day (1962). Some books make their mark on us, reflecting pivotal moments, and this is one of them for me. Just the sight of that enchanting cover takes me instantly back to that cramped somewhat battered room in the public library, the feel of that hard wooden chair, the hiss of the steam radiator, the smell of books and how time seemed to stand still for a moment. Ezra Jack Keats did that for me, a white college girl, and I can only imagine what he did for children of color.
So Andrea Davis Pinkney’s new book, A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day, is wonderfully evocative for me. Her lyrical free verse is a celebratory tribute to Keats, his dreams, his persistence, and his revolutionary vision of what picture books could be.
“Yes, yes, he was born with a roar
that would someday celebrate
of a brown-sugar boy on a snowy day.
You and he,
but the same in so many ways.”
As much as Keats’ work meant to me, I am embarrassed to admit how little I knew about him. Pinkney’s story is skillfully informative, as well as joyful and beautiful. I had no idea Keats was Jewish, a child of immigrants who changed his name in the face of discrimination. Readers learn the story of his artistic career, from Depression-era setbacks through WPA projects. He drew comic books as well as posters in support of the United States’ efforts in WWII—always inspired by a newspaper clipping of small black child. Thank you, Andrea Davis Pinkney, for this beautiful and important book.
Cindy: I was just a year old when The Snowy Day was published, and I don’t remember it from my childhood. I do, however, remember using it for story hour when I worked in a suburban Chicago public library in the 80s, and I loved it more each time I shared it with children. I later bought it for my own children, and have purchased it often as a baby gift. When I saw this tribute to Keats in a publisher exhibit booth, I was excited—and Pinkney does not disappoint
Her prose sings, but so do Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson’s pictures. With a firm nod to their indelible subject, they incorporate acrylic, collage, and pencil, as well as images from Keats’ work. The result is stunning. May Ezra Jack Keats and Peter inspire many more groundbreaking books to come. (Don’t miss this NPR interview.)