“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.
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).