Anyone who has read picture books to young children over the last sixty years is probably familiar with the work of writer and illustrator, Ezra Jack Keats (1916−1983). Before his 1962 Caldecott-award winning classic, The Snowy Day, children of color were largely absent from mainstream children’s books; Keats’s multi-hued heroes played on tenement streets, mingled with junk sellers, stood up to street gangs, and yes, followed their dreams. Keats’s kids were never objects of pity; through his colorful collages, Keats celebrated universal truths about the dignity and wonder of childhood. This slender volume, published to accompany a retrospective of Keats’s work organized by the Jewish Museum in New York, features two essays on Keats and some eighty reproductions of his art. If the essays are a bit random — we might have preferred a comprehensive biographical sketch — the high-quality, lush reproductions of Keats’s work positively pop from the page. Not only are these plates a revelation for readers accustomed to the flatter, paperback versions of his books, seeing his images disembodied from their original narratives helps us reconsider Keats as an artist with a deliberate, developing aesthetic. Even readers with a complete library of Keats’s books will want to own this surprisingly reasonably priced tribute volume. Bibliography, illustrations, index, notes, timeline.
Bettina Berch, author of the recent biography, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezierska, teaches part-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.