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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Illustrating 'A Chunk of Life'

“A child is just a child, no matter what his heritage might be.” – Ezra Jack Keats

Born in Brooklyn on this date in 1916 Keats crossed social boundaries as the first white American picture-book author to give minority children a central place in his literature.  His characters transcend ethnicity, illustrating family life and the simple pleasures and sometimes complex problems that every child encounters.

A mostly self-taught artist, Keats further studied art on the GI Bill after WWII and started working as an illustrator and editor on kids’ books in the mid-1950s.  His first attempt (in 1960) at writing and drawing one of his own was My Dog Is Lost, the story of a Puerto Rican immigrant boy searching for his dog in New York City.  Keats incorporated Spanish words into the story and featured children from Chinatown, Little Italy, Park Avenue and Harlem as central characters.

In 1962, he wrote and illustrated his Caldecott Medal-winning The Snowy Day, featuring a black child out in new-fallen snow.  “None of the manuscripts I'd been illustrating featured any black kids — except for token blacks in the background,” he said.   “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along."  The Snowy Day has never been out of print and is considered one of the most important American books of the 20th Century. 
         "I wanted The Snowy Day to be a chunk of life, the sensory experience in word and picture of what it feels like to hear your own body making sounds in the snow,” he said. “Crunch...crunch...And the joy of being alive."

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