Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ezra Jack Keats (March 11, 1916)

Ezra Jack Keats was the author of “The Snowy Day,” a beautiful picture book about a little boy named Peter. This is considered the first children’s book to depict a black child as the main character without irony or making fun of him. I had always assumed that the author was himself black, but in fact, he was an eccentric Jewish illustrator. Some say that in 1962 when he wrote and illustrated the book it would not have been possible for a black author to have such a work published.

Keats's view of religion was interesting:
“When Keats did write about religion, he sought universality rather than Jewish specificity. In 1966 he illustrated a book called God Is in the Mountain, for which he created paintings to accompany a wide array of religious quotations from the Bhagavad-Gita and the Quran to Lao-tzu to Rabbi Hillel. ‘I am in every religion as a thread through a string of pearls,’ was one of his Hindu selections.

“Universality characterizes most of Keats’ work, a development some critics found problematic, most notably in his depiction of Peter, who became a recurring character for Keats. These critics felt that Peter had little African-American identity beyond the color of his skin. Keats’ response in 1965 in a letter to the editor of the Saturday Review addressing one critic: ‘Might I suggest armbands?’” *

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