Visu­al Arts

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats

Clau­dia J. Nah­son with Mau­rice Berg­er and Emi­ly Casden
  • Review
By – February 14, 2012
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 (19161983). 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.

Discussion Questions