A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of the Snowy Day

by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Author) Lou Fancher (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade
A celebration of the extraordinary life of Ezra Jack Keats, creator of The Snowy Day.

The story of The Snowy Day begins more than one hundred years ago, when Ezra Jack Keats was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. The family were struggling Polish immigrants, and despite Keats's obvious talent, his father worried that Ezra's dream of being an artist was an unrealistic one. But Ezra was determined. By high school he was winning prizes and scholarships. Later, jobs followed with the WPA and Marvel comics. But it was many years before Keats's greatest dream was realized and he had the opportunity to write and illustrate his own book.

For more than two decades, Ezra had kept pinned to his wall a series of photographs of an adorable African American child. In Keats's hands, the boy morphed into Peter, a boy in a red snowsuit, out enjoying the pristine snow; the book became The Snowy Day, winner of the Caldecott Medal, the first mainstream book to feature an African American child. It was also the first of many books featuring Peter and the children of his -- and Keats's -- neighborhood.

Andrea Davis Pinkney's lyrical narrative tells the inspiring story of a boy who pursued a dream, and who, in turn, inspired generations of other dreamers.
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School Library Journal

Gr 2-4--Pinkney dives into the life and work of Ezra Jack Keats, specifically focusing on The Snowy Day and his creation of the main character, Peter. Using poetry (what the author refers to as "collage verse"), mainly addressed to Peter, Pinkney pieces together Keats's biography, tracing spots where early versions or hints of Peter can be found, and reflects on what a monumental event the publication of the picture book was and still is. Students will learn about Keats's early life, his tireless dedication to provide for his immigrant family, his love and pursuit of art, and how he changed his name from Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz to Ezra Jack Keats to avoid anti-Semitism in the United States after World War II. Pinkney's verse seamlessly weaves together story and fact to craft an intimate conversation about the artist's history and impact. ("Brown-sugar child, /when you and your hue/burst onto the scene, /all of us came out to play.") Readers familiar with Keats will notice allusions to his other works throughout. The illustrations complement the text, and Keats's own style, by using mixed-media collages of prints, fabrics, photos, and paint, all of which capture the liveliness of the urban setting and historical points. This uplifting telling ends with a discussion of the cultural importance of Peter and how Keats's vision paved the way for authors and artists to look for and include children of color in their work. VERDICT This celebration of a visionary children's book author and illustrator is a lovely addition for most collections.--Briana Moore, Elmont Memorial Library, NY

Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

This formidable biographical poem pays homage to Ezra Jack Keats while speaking to Peter, the fictional African-American hero of The Snowy Day, the story of a black boy playing in the snow, remarkable among 1960s children's stories in which "the delight/ was all white." Pinkney (Rhythm Ride) goes deeply into Keats's motivations, describing how "Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz," a child of struggling Polish immigrants, progressed from grocery store sign painter in Brooklyn to WPA muralist to comic book artist. After his service as a draftsman in the WWII Air Force, "Ezra did something many Jews did/ when the want ads said: / 'No Jews Need Apply' " and changed his name to one that "had a nicer ring to it--for some." Pinkney emphasizes that "Discrimination had formed Ezra's/ understanding of what it meant to be/ different./ This also led to you, brown-sugar boy." The character of Peter, warmly addressed as a "cocoa sprite" who is "filled with brown-sugar whimsy," developed from a series of photos of a child that Keats clipped from a 1930s Life magazine. Pinkney describes the snow of Peter's day as "nature's we-all blanket," an inclusive force ("When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten"), while Fancher and Johnson (Shh! Bears Sleeping) mime Keats's collages, creating a gentle ambience for Pinkney's wordplay and confident voice. Though an established classic, The Snowy Day has received renewed attention from the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Pinkney's poem sheds fascinating light on Keats's long-lived achievement. Ages 7-10. Author's agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Nov.)

Copyright 2016 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year 2016
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year 2016
A Sydney Taylor Award Honor Book
An ALSC 2017 Notable Children's Books list pick

★ "Those who love Peter (and who does not?) will relish the illustrations, particularly that of Keats holding hands with Peter under a snow-dappled tree. More to the point, Pinkney lets readers know what Peter meant and still means as a milestone in inclusive children's literature. "He brought a world of white / suddenly alive with color." A loving and forceful reminder that Keats' Peter is our Peter—always." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ "Fancher and Steve Johnson's acrylic, collage, and pencil illustrations seamlessly integrate images from Keats' books into their own art, which employs a style complementary to the originals. Equally important they skillfully represent Pinkney's lyrical text, which sometimes requires historical accuracy, magic realism, and nods to future possibilities, all within one spread . . . This is an important book." —Booklist, starred review

★ "Pinkney's poem sheds fascinating light on Keats's long-lived achievement." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Pinkney's verse seamlessly weaves together story and fact to craft an intimate conversation about the artist's history and impact . . . Lovely." —School Library Journal

"In lively verse, Pinkney presents a picture book biography of Ezra Jack Keats . . . 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." —The Horn Book

"A heartfelt and thoughtful look at an artist's growth and a single individual's effect on a genre." —BCCB
Andrea Davis Pinkney
Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of more than 20 books for children, including Bird in a Box and several collaborations with her husband Brian Pinkney, including Sit -In, Hand in Hand, and Martin & Mahalia. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY.

Sean Qualls is the illustrator of a number of celebrated books for children, including Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and Dizzy by Jonah Winter, an ALA Notable Book, a Kirkus Best Book, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. He has also illustrated Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and her son Slade and Giant Stepsto Change The World by Spike and Tonya Lee, which will be published in January 2011. Sean lives with his wife, illustrator Selina Alko, and their two children in Brooklyn, NY.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication date
November 20, 2016
BISAC categories
JNF007010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Art
JNF053140 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Topics | Prejudice & Racism
JNF007030 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Literary
JNF063000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Books & Libraries
Library of Congress categories
United States
Authors, American
JUVENILE NONFICTION / Biography & Autobiograp
JUVENILE NONFICTION / Social Issues / Prejudi
Children's literature
Keats, Ezra Jack

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