Happy Birthday Ezra Jack Keats!

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“Then began an experience that turned my life around — working on a book with a black kid as hero. None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids — except for token blacks in the background. My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.” ~ Erza Jack Keats.

 

Ezra

 

We love him just for that, for his creation of Peter, the black protagonist. And not just for that, but for his eclectic use of techniques, mediums and textures in his colorful art. My four year old is drawn to his stories that revolve around familiar, ordinary pleasures and problems in a child’s life. In Caldecott-medal winner “The Snowy Day,” we share the delight of a little boy playing on freshly fallen snow. In “A Letter To Amy,” Peter worries if his friend Amy will make it to his party and in “Whistle for Willie,” all Peter wants is to be able to whistle. The book “Goggles” has Peter standing up to a group of older neighborhood boys as he tries to get back a pair of goggles from them. But my favorite in the Peter series is “Peter’s chair,” a gentle tale about the adjustments Peter has to make when his newborn sister comes home. In all these books, we see a contemporary African-American family in a very urban setting, a milestone in classic children’s literature at one time, thanks to Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983).

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Meera Sriram has been reviewing and recommending diverse children’s literature for about ten years now. She loves to pass on a title or an author to a friend (or a stranger, for that matter). Picture books particularly appeal to the inner child in her. She moved to the U.S. at the turn of the millennium from India. After graduate studies and a brief stint as an electrical engineer, she decided to express herself in other creative ways, primarily through writing. She has co-authored four books for children, all published in India. Her writing interests include people and cultures, nature, and life’s everyday moments. She also runs an early literacy program for toddlers and preschoolers in her neighboring communities. She lives in Berkeley, CA, with her husband and two kids. Curling up to read a good book with her children is something she looks forward to every day. She constantly fantasizes about a world with no boundaries over hot chai, to help her stay warm in foggy Northern California. More at www.meerasriram.com.

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