Ezra Jack Keats (March 11, 1916 — May 6, 1983) (born Jacob Ezra Katz), author of The Snowy Day, was an easel artist and one of the most important children's literature authors and illustrators of the 20th Century.
Keats is best known for introducing multiculturalism into mainstream American children's literature. He was one of the first children’s book authors in the English-speaking world to use an urban setting for his stories, and he developed the use of collage as a medium for illustration.
book featuring Peter, The Snowy Day, received the prestigious Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book for children in 1963. Peter appears in six more books, growing from a small boy in The Snowy Day to pre-adolescence in Letter to Amy. Following a child's growth was novel. The Snowy Day became a classic in children's literature, along with the books that follow it.
In the books that Keats wrote and illustrated, he used a number of innovative techniques to portray his subjects in a unique manner. One of these was his blending of gouache with collage, as well as other multimedia art formats. Another was the problem-solving aspect of his books...each main character solves a problem that faces children of that age. A feature of his characters is that they evolve in dealing with the changing problems that confront children as they grow up. For instance, in The Snowy Day, little Peter, about four years old, realizes that he should not try to join in some of the activities of the bigger children when he is knocked down by a stray snowball. As Peter grows, he learns how to react to the problems of becoming an older brother (Peter’s Chair), to stand up to the ridicule of his peers when he decides to invite a girl, his friend Amy, to his birthday party (A Letter to Amy), and to avoid the violence of a gang of older boys (Goggles!).
Many of Keats' stories illustrate family life and the simple pleasures that a child has in his daily routine. Jennie's Hat illustrates the excitement of a child waiting for a present, and the anticipation of what the present would look like. In Louie, a special child learns about a simple act of unselfish kindness through a puppet show. Goggles tells the story of finding a pair of goggles, and the chase that follows the boys through the streets of a neighborhood, when the big bullies want to snatch the goggles from them. Keats drew upon his experiences, but these are also the experiences of children growing up in neighborhoods and communities in many parts of the world.
Keats illustrated over 85 books for children, also writing the stories for 24 of them. The Ezra Jack Keats Archive is housed at The University of Southern Mississippi as part of the deGrummond Children's Literature Collection.
In 1983, Keats died following a heart attack. His last projects included designing the sets for a musical version of his book The Trip, designing a poster for the New Theater of Brooklyn, and writing and illustrating The Giant Turnip, a beloved folktale. He never married.
The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award was established in 1985 to recognize and encourage authors and illustrators new to the field of children's books. The Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards are given annually to an outstanding new writer and an outstanding new illustrator of picture books for children (age 9 and younger) and are presented jointly by the New York Public Library and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.
His work traveled around the world as part of a United States State Department Exhibit.
Keats was the first designer (by invitation) of greeting cards for UNICEF.
A retrospective of Keats’s art was featured at the New York Public Library and at the Children’s Library of Manhattan.
A novel Imagination Playground was set up by the Prospect Park Alliance in Brooklyn, New York, based on the characters from Keats’s books. The centerpiece is a much visited bronze statue of Peter, reading The Snowy Day while sitting on a rock, with one hand on his pet dog Willie, and his little chair (from Peter’s Chair) nearby.
Keats is commemorated with a flagstone in the Celebrity Walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
He was an invited speaker at the Iran International Book Festival.
Japan named an ice-skating rink after him, commemorating the book Skates.
Keats appeared on television with Fred Rogers several times.
He was awarded The University of Southern Mississippi Silver Medallion in 1980 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival as outstanding children’s book author-illustrator.
Portland, Oregon, honored his work with a city-wide parade, as did his readers in Tokyo, Japan.
Keats' works have been translated into 19 languages, including Japanese, French, Danish, Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, German, Swedish, Thai, Chinese, and Korean.
The Ezra Jack Keats International School in Brooklyn was named for him (PS 253)