Book For Today
Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day. Perfect for today in the Northeast.
We can also contemplate this:
The source for the storyline, Keats noted, came from his memories of snowy days in his Brooklyn childhood. Above all, Keats wanted to capture the wonderment of a child’s first snowfall, a feeling universal to all children, regardless of race. “I wanted to convey the joy of being a little boy alive on a certain kind of day—of being for that moment. The air is cold, you touch the snow, aware of the things to which all children are so open.”
The Snowy Day was immediately welcomed by educators and critics and embraced by the public. The book is noteworthy not only as a benchmark in racial representation in literature, but also for the simplicity and elegance of the writing, which many be attributed to Keats’s love of haiku poetry. The beautiful illustrations also marked the book as a great accomplishment of art in a children’s book. Keats, who was a painter first and foremost, chose to illustrate the book with collage, a medium he had never used before. “The idea of using collage came to me at the same time I was thinking about the story. I used a bit of paper here and there and immediately saw new colors, patterns, and relationships forming.”
As the civil-rights movement entered a new phase of black cultural consciousness in the mid- to late-1960s, The Snowy Day began to meet with some criticism. “After The Snowy Day was published, many, many people thought I was black,” said Keats. “As a matter of fact, many were disappointed that I wasn’t!” A 1965 Saturday Review article, “The All-White World of Children’s Books,” criticized Keats for not addressing Peter’s race in the text. In the 1970s, some critics argued that The Snowy Day was too integrationist, and did not truly represent or celebrate African-American cultural or racial identity. By the 1980s the cultural landscape had shifted again. “How many literary light years separate Little Black Sambo from The Snowy Day?” a critic wrote. “Although we have been led to believe by twenty years of reporting that Keats’s work was special because of his use of collage, it is his vision of the universal human spirit as personified in one pre-school black youngster that marks this book for attention.”
Throughout these debates, The Snowy Day has remained a deeply loved and profoundly influential book.
And now, in 2012, it's worth yet another re-read and another appraisal. I love the book, and I am utterly comfortable with its main character. I don't think this is an argument about the "post racial America" or should be viewed through that lens. It's just that this is what the world I find myself living in now is like this. And this is a beautiful, unassuming presentation of the joy of new snow in a the wide city. I think this book has survived the past half century with grace. Still moving and wonderful.
And now, without further ado, you get to have it read to you: