The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a classic for the ages. It is instantly recognized and beloved by generations of children and parents; it is a staple in schools, community centers, and libraries — anywhere children gather to be surrounded by beautiful words and images.
Now we have a fitting paean to this iconic work. Andrea Davis Pinkney, having absorbed Keats’ story into the very fabric of her soul, has given birth to a new book that honors its predecessor by singing to it while delineating its history. This is a combination of a poem and a biography of both Keats himself and of his most famous work. The artwork, although fresh and new, echoes Keats’ own. Pinkney has written this book as a love letter to Peter, the young protagonist of The Snowy Day, and she tells Peter about Keats and his Jewish family as they flee Poland hoping for a better life in America. They find immigrant life in Brooklyn difficult and challenging, too. And yet there is magic in young Ezra’s life — there is snow; there is art; there are libraries. The libraries, the art, and some special encouragement are part of a path that leads Keats through the years of the Depression, and his artistic talent even helps him navigate his World War II army career as he paints posters and illustrates brochures, charts and maps as part of his service as U.S. soldier. After the war, Keats changes his name from the original Jacob Ezra Katz to the name we are familiar with, and begins illustrating children’s books. Eventually young Peter is born, and other beautiful children’s books are written and illustrated. Much is made of Keats’ prejudice-busting choice to portray Peter as what Pinkney terms so sweetly a “brown-sugar” child, giving African-American children an image and a hero they sorely needed as there were so few in the literature of the time.
There is an extensive three-part back matter section, also beautifully written and illustrated. The first article discusses the history of The Snowy Day itself, the second discusses Keats’ method of collage art, and the third is a list of books written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
This book is a work of art that discusses a work of art, and is a heady experience for any adult to share with any child. The publisher recommends it for ages 8 and up, but the artistic elements come together in such harmony that they create an unusual experience that any reader of any age can marvel at and enjoy.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.