'Snowy Day' is focus of Philly exhibit
PHILADELPHIA — During the height of the civil rights movement, a gentle book about a black boy in a red snowsuit crunch-crunch-crunching through the snow broke down racial barriers and is the subject of an exhibit that opened on Friday.
Ezra Jack Keats' beloved 1962 book, “The Snowy Day,” is credited as the first mass-market children's storybook to feature a black protagonist — a preschooler named Peter joyfully exploring the snow-covered sidewalks in his New York City neighborhood.
The National Museum of American Jewish History is presenting a retrospective, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats,” through Oct. 20. The exhibit includes more than 70 works, ranging from preliminary sketches to final paintings and collages.
“We wanted to marry the strength of the show as an art exhibition with the significance of the book in children's literature,” museum curator Josh Perelman said. “We really wanted the exhibit spaces to feel alive ... to feel like being in a children's book.”
The son of white Jewish immigrants from Poland, Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn in 1916 and grew up in poverty. Artistically gifted but unable to attend art school, he started out working as a sign painter, comic book background illustrator and Works Progress Administration muralist before turning to children's books.
“Keats drew a considerable amount on the fact that he experienced prejudice in his own life, and he had a sensitivity to what it felt like to be marginalized,” Perelman said. “He also had a world view that embraced extending that sensitivity toward other people who may feel marginalized as well.”
Peter's world was a reflection of Keats', Perelman said, “the city streets where he felt comfortable, where he called home and that happened to be inhabited by working-class and poor folks and by African-American folks.”
“That's who he felt should be in his books. This isn't ‘Eloise,' ” he said, referring to the book of a girl who lives in Manhattan's posh Plaza Hotel with her nanny. “It's a very different New York City.”
Awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1963, “The Snowy Day” is published in at least 10 languages. It is on the Library of Congress' list of “Books That Shaped America” and is rated by teacher and librarian groups as one of the all-time top children's books.
“If you look at children's literature previous to ‘The Snowy Day,' there are very few positive examples of publications for African-American children,” Perelman said, “and there's a whole lot of very derogatory, stereotypical and outright racist material.”
Keats, who died in 1983, illustrated more than 85 books. In six more books after “The Snowy Day,” readers followed Peter growing up from a kindergarten-age boy to an adolescent. His race was never mentioned.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Colorado clinic shooting suspect talked of baby parts, police say
- Police officer killed in Colorado Spring clinic rampage a co-pastor, figure skater
- Slow-moving, wintry storm packs punch in Plains, Midwest
- Police union stands by Chicago officer charged with murdering teen
- Federal $1.1 trillion spending bill loaded with policy deals
- Authorization for NSA dragnets of phone call data expires
- Disability claim waits grow alongside swelling caseloads for judges
- Pot doctors in medical marijuana states push boundaries with marketing
- AIDS activist finishes rowing across Atlantic
- Prof proposes museum of corruption in New York capital
- Investors buy shares in college students: Purdue University thinks it’s wave of future