(amazing writers & illustrators we want to know more about)
Ezra Jack Keats
Jacob Ezra Keats was born on March 11, 1916 to poor Jewish immigrants from Poland, and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He enjoyed drawing and painting from an early age. At the age of 8, he was paid 25 cents for painting a shop sign. In junior high, he was awarded a medal for drawing, and in high school, he won a national award for a painting. While Keats' family was poor, his father did his best to support Jacob's love of drawing by buying him supplies whenever possible.
During the Depression, Keats painted murals for the Works Projects Administration. He was also hired to help with the backgrounds for Captain Marvel comics. The biography of Keats on the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation's website then explains that "in 1947, he legally changed his name to Ezra Jack Keats, in reaction to the anti-Semitism of the time. It was his own experience of discrimination that deepened his sympathy and understanding for those who suffered similar hardships."
Keats studied painting in Paris in 1949, and when he returned to the United States, he found work illustrating books, advertisements and magazines. One day a book publisher, spotted one of his book covers in a store window and asked him to create children’s books. His first book was Jubilant for Sure by Elizabeth Hubbard Lansing in 1954. In 1960, he wrote My Dog Is Lost! about Juanito, Puerto Rican boy in New York. Peter, in A Snowy Day was inspired by a group of photographs of an African-American boy in Life Magazine. (Read more about that HERE!) The Snowy Day was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963, after which Keats "Ezra found himself suddenly famous"! He traveled, and taught, and eventually wrote 22 picture books and illustrated 85 books for children. A number of his books feature Peter and his friends.
Keats was renowned for representing children of all races and nationalities; he simply believed in portraying the world he saw outside his window, and enabling children to see themselves on the pages of his books. You can read some great thoughts from famous writers, educators, and even actors about Keats "breaking the color barrier" in children's literature with The Snowy Day HERE. Here's one of those quotes:
Said Linda E. Johnson, President & CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, which hosts the annual EJK Bookmaking Competition: "Ezra Jack Keats forever changed children’s literature and the lives of countless young readers when he depicted an African-American boy playing in an urban environment in The Snowy Day. For decades, Keats gave a voice to youth who were underrepresented in children’s books and worked tirelessly to promote literacy. Drawing inspiration from his childhood spent in Brooklyn, he became one of the world’s most important children’s authors and illustrators, and to this day, his delightful imagination and vivid artwork continue to captivate audiences."