A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and
the Creation of The Snowy Day
by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
Primary, Intermediate Viking 56 pp.
11/16 978-0-425-28768-2 $18.99
In evocative verse, Pinkney presents a picture book biography of Ezra Jack Keats, creator of the children’s classic The Snowy Day (rev. 2/63). It’s also a love letter to Peter, Keats’s Snowy Day protagonist: “Long before you arrived, / little brown-sugar child, he was born… / You and he, / different, / but the same in so many ways.” Keats, born Jacob Ezra Katz in 1916, was the son of Jewish immigrants who fled Poland and settled in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn. As a boy, Ezra had a job painting signs; he soon realized, with the help of his teachers and the library, that art was his calling. As a young man he painted murals for the WPA, worked as a comics artist, and created WWII posters before publishing his picture-book masterpiece. Pinkney highlights Keats’s attunement to issues of discrimination, poverty, and social justice (“Even though the world was living / in an age of color judgment, / your color didn’t matter to Ezra”), so when Peter does emerge — “Brown-sugar boy in a blanket of white” — the resonances are immediate and cathartic. Fancher and Johnson, who, like Keats, are known for their collage illustrations, thoughtfully incorporate Snowy Day motifs and other images from Peter’s world along with photos and additional archival material; the color palette and textures, too, effectively pay homage to Keats’s work. Useful back matter includes notes (“Ezra’s Legacy,” “Keats, the Collage Poet”), a booklist, and other sources.
From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.