On Ezra Jack Keats
CBC’s new History is Lit series will explore literary history, book lore, ancient storytelling, and any place where stories and yesteryear meet.
Lives fascinate me. I have this voyeuristic pull to know how people lived, what their hardships were, how they not only overcame them but rose so far above what was expected. To see how we collectively and individually progress throughout the years brings me hope, strength, and growth. As Isaac Newton said to a fellow scientist, Robert Hooke, “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” These giants come in various forms and guises; they can be friends, family, artists, activists, or other prominent figures. This week we look at the inspiring illustrator, Jack Ezra Keats.
Ezra Jack Keats was born in Brooklyn in March 1916 to Polish parents. He showed talent and an interest in the arts from an early age. At 8 years old, he sold his first work – he painted an advertising sign in a local shop. His talent won him multiple scholarships for art school; unfortunately, he couldn’t take any of them since he had to work to support his family. (His father had passed away days before his high school graduation). A few years after his graduation he found work as an illustrator and designed camouflage patterns during World War II. After illustrating for several magazines, he did his first illustration for a children’s book in 1954: Jubilant for Sure by Elizabeth Lansing.
In the 1960s, he began to illustrate and write children’s books; his first foray was My Dog Is Lost by Keats and Pat Cherr, the story of Juanito, a Puerto Rican boy who loses his dog and meets all kinds of kids as he looks for his pet. Soon after, he won the 1963 Caldecott Medal for one of his seminal titles, The Snowy Day, which is about a young African-American child named Peter who explores his neighborhood after a snowfall. Keats would go on to write and illustrate over 85 books before his death in 1983, books about girls and boys dealing with life’s challenges in a comforting way.
As with Keats, life is all about the journey, how we walk the road, it is about how we get there. We can pick and choose what we take away from these giants, finding inspiration in the childhood of a person and then seeing more of the strength in their adult years. We can emulate the artistic journey of one and the mental health road of another. It is up to us onto which shoulders we stand and hope in the future others may stand on ours.
Read more on the controversy about and inspiration behind A Snowy Day.
A few books by Ezra Jack Keats.
The Snowy Day (1962)
Peter’s Chair (1967)
Kitten for a Day (1974)
Maggie and the Pirate (1979)
Check out the 2022 EJK Award Winners and Honors just announced!
CBC’s resident history and yesteryear explorer, Laura Peraza, takes you back in time. Check out other series on our blog and our Reader Resources for more books and materials.