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The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Updated on May 16, 2014

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking children's classic

When I was pregnant with my first child, a coworker who had recently adopted handed me a brightly wrapped package. "My favorite children's book," she said, and I soon saw why she so loved The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

This is a quiet book -- free of gimmicks, bells or whistles -- that lets vibrant mixed-media artwork and a simple, universally relatable story do the talking. A little boy wakes up to a newly fallen snow. The world is covered in white, and he goes outside to explore it. His day ranges from exhilarating (snow angels!) to disappointing (rejection from a big kids' snowball fight) -- everything a child feels on an ordinary, yet somehow magical, day of neighborhood adventure in the snow.

Here, in recognition of the book's 50th anniversary, are 5 tidbits about The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats that I thought you might enjoy.

1. Ezra Jack Keats was white

Maybe it was just my husband and I who didn't know this, but the brilliant author/illustrator who wrote The Snowy Day -- the first picture book to feature an African American protagonist -- was white. Having noticed over the years that black children were featured only in the background -- if at all -- in the books he'd been asked to illustrate, Keats decided to create his own picture book with a black child, Peter, as its central character. it was a groundbreaking move, but Keats (who died in 1983) was modest about it: "My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along," he wrote.

2. At first, some activists were wary of the book

Somewhat surprisingly, African American activists weren't universally thrilled about A Snowy Day when it first came out, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation's Deborah Pope told NPR. 1962 was a pivotal year for the Civil Rights movement, sandwiched between the Freedom Riders in '61 and Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech in '63. Racial tensions ran high, and many African Americans felt that past white authors, writing about blacks, hadn't gotten it right. When A Snowy Day was embraced by black (and white) children, families, and teachers across America, however, the activists' worries were eased.

3. Peter was inspired by 1940s Life magazine photos

In the '40s, Keats had cut out a series of photos from Life of a young boy in the South who was being given an experimental vaccine. The boy's expression at first is proud and happy, in anticipation of receiving something special, but turns into surprise and betrayal after the painful shot. The photos made a lasting impression on Keats, who would later model The Snowy Day's Peter on that little boy in Georgia.

The Snowy Day: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Snowy Day: 50th Anniversary Edition

The 50th anniversary edition of this beautiful book includes 8 supplemental pages, including the magazine photos of the boy who inspired Keats and a fan letter from Langston Hughes.

 

4. The Snowy Day had a huge impact on African American children

One of the most moving things Keats heard about the book was from a teacher who told him that after it came out, for the first time ever, her African American students were using brown crayons to color pictures of themselves. Before A Snowy Day, they had used pink crayons to represent their skin.

The Snowy Day & More Ezra Jack Keats Stories (Scholastic Video Collection)
The Snowy Day & More Ezra Jack Keats Stories (Scholastic Video Collection)

When my kids were little we watched, and watched, and watched this DVD. Scholastic did a brilliant job of creating a "reading family's DVD" series, focused on the original art and story, that inspires imagination.

 

5. The Snowy Day is a Caldecott winner

Keats's groundbreaking book won the Caldecott Medal -- the top prize for a picture book in the U.S. -- in 1963. Well deserved!

MerryMakers The Snowy Day Plush Doll, 15-Inch
MerryMakers The Snowy Day Plush Doll, 15-Inch

How cute is this little Peter doll? Perfect for snuggling with on a snowy day.

 

More info...

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats NPR interview with Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats New York Times article on the book's 50th anniversary

The Snowy Day lesson plans for preschool and elementary teachers

Please share your thoughts on A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Thanks for stopping by!

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    • PurplePansy LM profile image

      PurplePansy LM 

      6 years ago

      I remember this book from when I was a kid. I love the illustrations. The colors and style is so beautiful. I remember liking the story. It was one of my favorites. I had never thought about the fact that the little kid in the book is african-american. That is actually really neat that this book helped in a way with civil rights and children seeing each other as all okay.

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