- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Snowy Day and other favorite picture books by Ezra Jack Keats
A favorite childhood book
When my children were little, one of their all-time favorite books was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.
Inevitably, when we reached the last page, little hands turned the book back to the front and a not so little voice demanded, "Again!"
There is something especially wonderful about sitting inside a toasty house while snow falls gently and silently outside, with your child snuggled close on your lap, and reading The Snowy Day for the very first time.
Together with Peter, we jump from bed the morning of the first snow, don a red snow suit and rush out to make brand new tracks going this way and that. Along the way, we lie down, feel the cold through our snow suits and make angels.
On the way we home, we pocket a freshly-packed snowball to save for later. We smell the cold, taste the snowflakes on our tongues.
How important is it to teach diversity, compassion and understanding to our children?
"Why is Peter's face brown, Mommy?"
Not only was this a favorite book that we read again and again, even in summer, but as a white parent living in a rural state with less than 1 percent Black population in the mix, I found the book a beautiful introduction to conversations about people with different skin color ("Why is Peter's face brown, Mommy?") and life in a city ("Why aren't there any trees, Mommy?")
Tender illustrations in this picture book, as well as in Whistle for Willie, Goggles, and the many that followed, charm us with Peter's tiny view of the world.
Yet Keats did not sugarcoat it much. Look closely and you see the graffiti, broken pavement and garbage-strewn alleyways of inner city life.
All of these provide teaching moments to help our children grow and understand life beyond their street, school and neighborhood.
Equally important, if our children are growing up on streets similar to Peter's, they get a chance to see how one brave, indomitable little boy faces the dangers of his neighborhood, be they uncovered manholes, construction debris, or bullies.
The Snowy Day is a Caldecott Award winner
A winner of the American Library Association's prestigious Caldecott Award, The Snowy Day is, more importantly, a winner in the hearts of the children who love it.
My daughters bought the Peter books for their children, and I still have a few, including this one, in my own library, that I read to their little ones.
Hear and see Peter on his snowy adventure
This is a sweet video depicting every page in the book, and narrated by a mom, reading to her child.
Two more favorite picture books from Mr. Keats
Whistle for Willie
Whistle for Willie, is the next, most popular Ezra Jack Keats book in our children's library.
Right now, it happens to be a special favorite of one of my middle grandchildren, who as I write this is trying to learn to whistle.
Just like Peter, she purses her lips and blows and blows and blows. One day, perhaps very soon, just like Peter, she will get it too.
Peter and Archie outwit the bullies
In Goggles! Peter and his friend Archie come face to face with a gang of big-boy bullies.
This story touched me, even as a grown-up, because my brother and I used to face bullies almost every day when we were little. Big ones.
Like Peter, we had to use our wits to outsmart the bullies and find our way to safety. Sometimes we didn't get there before my brother got a bloody nose trying to protect me and our little sister.
One time, after one of the bullies knocked my brother down, I jumped on the brute's back, clawing with my nails at his neck and head. He threw my skinny self off like I was an old sweatshirt he'd been carrying over his shoulder.
We met our tormentors in a teeny, tiny town, far from any metropolis. Peter and Archie meet their antagonists in the inner city. Still,the secret hiding places in derelict buildings and garbage-strewn alleyways are similar to many of our own in those days.
One of the beauties of Keats's stories is his ability to show Peter's life very much as it is for children living in poverty almost anywhere, as well as the joy with which Peter and his friends face each day, always eager to do more, see more, learn more.
A real boy inspired Keats to create Peter
Did you know Keats patterned Peter, the charming little boy in this series, after a real life boy?
Way back in 1940, long before he first wrote The Snowy Day, Keats was taken by the photographs of a little boy in Life Magazine. So taken was he, that he clipped the photos and pinned them to his bulletin board.
More than twenty years later, after he received the prestigious Caldecott Award for this tale of a sweet boy who ventures fearlessly into the world of traffic and big kids, not all of whom are nice to little boys, Keats called the real life child a hero and one for whom he had always wanted to write a story.
About the author
You may be surprised to learn that Ezra Jack Keats was a white man. Like Peter, Keats grew up in the inner city, rich with a diverse population of many colors and cultures.
He chose at an early age in his career to write picture books about children of color because, as the child of Polish-Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century, he knew well how discrimination affects a child.
As an illustrator of children's books, he soon noticed that none of the books he was asked to illustrate showed children of color, or children with differences, or much of the life he knew growing up.
He decided to write and illustrate the stories he knew many of the children with whom he grew up wanted to see. Not long after, he won his first award. Then another and another.
Learn more about this gentle teacher and delightful artist on the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation web site.
Discovering Peter all over again with the grandchildren
Today, this very day, in a city that rarely receives snow, and in which we see people of every shape and color every time we walk out the door, my youngest grandchild will snuggle on my lap.
With gentle breezes tickling her hair from the open window, she will giggle as she turns page after page. Together, we will run out the door with Peter to play in the wonderland of a city snow scape and taste snow on his mittens.
At the end, she will do as she always does, as her mama and auntie did before her: Turn the book back to the beginning and in a loud voice demand, "Again!"
Thank you for visiting this page. Are you a fan of the Peter books by Ezra Jack Keats? Which is your favorite?