cover image A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of ‘The Snowy Day’

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of ‘The Snowy Day’

Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Viking, $18.99 (60p) ISBN 978-0-425-28768-2

This formidable biographical poem pays homage to Ezra Jack Keats while speaking to Peter, the fictional African-American hero of The Snowy Day, the story of a black boy playing in the snow, remarkable among 1960s children’s stories in which “the delight/ was all white.” Pinkney (Rhythm Ride) goes deeply into Keats’s motivations, describing how “Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz,” a child of struggling Polish immigrants, progressed from grocery store sign painter in Brooklyn to WPA muralist to comic book artist. After his service as a draftsman in the WWII Air Force, “Ezra did something many Jews did/ when the want ads said:/ ‘No Jews Need Apply’ ” and changed his name to one that “had a nicer ring to it—for some.” Pinkney emphasizes that “Discrimination had formed Ezra’s/ understanding of what it meant to be/ different./ This also led to you, brown-sugar boy.” The character of Peter, warmly addressed as a “cocoa sprite” who is “filled with brown-sugar whimsy,” developed from a series of photos of a child that Keats clipped from a 1930s Life magazine. Pinkney describes the snow of Peter’s day as “nature’s we-all blanket,” an inclusive force (“When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten”), while Fancher and Johnson (Shh! Bears Sleeping) mime Keats’s collages, creating a gentle ambience for Pinkney’s wordplay and confident voice. Though an established classic, The Snowy Day has received renewed attention from the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Pinkney’s poem sheds fascinating light on Keats’s long-lived achievement. Ages 7–10. Author’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Nov.)