March is often the snowiest month in Bradford County, although this winter has had its share of snow before March even came in like that famous lion.
There is one children’s book about snow that my grandson loves to check out of the library every winter. In fact it’s one of his favorite books.
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, is about a young boy named Peter who wakes excitedly to the first snowfall of the season. Peter goes outside to explore his snowy neighborhood and has many adventures. He makes tracks in the snow, a snowman with a smiling face, and lies down in the snow to make snow angels. Peter pretends to be a mountain climber, sliding down a pile of snow. He makes snowballs and brings them home in hopes of saving them until the next day.
Keats encourages his readers through Peter, to pretend to be anyone they want to be. The beautiful thing about this story is that Keats, through engaging his readers, brings out the child in all of us, as we feel on that first snowy day.
Jacob Ezra Katz was born in Brooklyn on March 11, 1916. Known as Jack, he later changed his name to Ezra Jack Keats.
Artistic even as a young child, in high school Keats won a national contest for his oil painting titled “Shantytown,” depicting hobos warming themselves around a fire. He received a senior class medal for excellence in art when he graduated from high school.
About that same time, Keats’ father passed away. This kept him from attending art school. Instead, he took classes when he could, but mostly he worked at different jobs, including as a mural painter and as a comic book illustrator. During World War II he was drafted into the military where he designed camouflage patterns for the U. S. Army Air Force.
By 1949 Keats was painting and studying in Paris, finally realizing his dream. When he returned to New York, he started working as a commercial artist.
His art became known and gained popularity as his illustrations appeared in different publications, including dust jackets for books. His art was displayed in store windows and the Associated American Artists Gallery, in New York City.
Keats never had any intention of getting into children’s books. But in 1954 Elizabeth Riley from Thomas Y. Crowell Publishing Company asked him to illustrate Jubilant for Sure written by Elisabeth Hubbard Lansing. This led to illustrating nearly 70 more children’s books, including the popular Danny Dunn series.
Eventually, in 1960, Keats, co-authoring with Pat Cherr, wrote and illustrated My Dog is Lost, his first children’s book. His main character, eight-year-old Juanito, arrives in New York City from Puerto Rico and loses his dog. Children from Chinatown, Harlem, Little Italy and Park Avenue help him. Keats’ story centers on minority children and he even incorporates Spanish into it.
Two years later Keats wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day. His main character, Peter, was inspired by photographs of an African-American boy that he had clipped from a May 1940 issue of Life magazine. Keats wanted to have minority children of New York City as the main characters in his books.
It was through Peter that Keats became known for introducing multiculturalism into American children’s literature. He was one of the first children’s book authors who used urban settings for his stories.
He developed collage as a medium for illustrating, using cutouts of patterned paper, fabric and oilcloth; handmade stamps; and India ink spattered with a toothbrush.
The Snowy Day is an inspiration to children. Its simple but elegant writing; and its art has inspired children to create their own projects.
In 1963, The Snowy Day was awarded the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book for children.
Locally, The Snowy Day can be checked out from the Bradford County Library, the Allen F. Pierce Free Library in Troy and at other libraries in the area.
Lee Bennett Hopkins in his book, Pauses: Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children’s Books, quoted Keats’ saying, “I wanted to convey the joy of being a little boy alive on a certain kind of day – of being for that moment. The air is cold, you touch the snow, aware of the things to which all children are so open.”
In The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats captures a child’s first snowfall, full of wonder; a feeling universal to all children, regardless of their cultural background.