New York Exhibit Highlights Books About African Americans Jane Friedman | Washington
But here's the surprise.
Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz. That's a Jewish name. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Katz was white.
Early in his career, he changed his name to Keats, a very Christian name.
Keat's groundbreaking book, The Snowy Day, published 50 years ago, was the first color picture book featuring an African American child - and not in a racist way.
Keat's work is now the subject of a retrospective at New York’s Jewish Museum.
Peter, the main character in The Snowy Day, is a kid like any other. He goes out in the snow for the first time and comes home with a snowball in his pocket. He expects to find it the next morning.
Keats wrote six more books about Peter, showing him in his gritty New York slum at a time when children’s books showed white children in well groomed neighborhoods, playing with other white kids.
Jerry Pinkney is an African American and a children's book illustrator. He read The Snowy Day to his own children.
“We were trying to find reading material for them and naturally, as people of color, we were looking for books that would reflect their image or mirror back their image," said Pinkney. "For people of color, all of a sudden there was this book that dealt with contemporary African American life.”
“There’s a tremendous sense of courage to risk entering an area that had not really been gone into," said Pinkney. "Ezra was really the first. My appreciation and respect continues to grow.”