August 17, 2009

On Loving Ezra Jack Keats

Even in the middle of it, I forget much of parenting is transmitting or recreating my own childhood for my kids.

We went to my grandmother's house, so the kid can rummage through the same coal-bin-turned-basement-toy-closet I used to; we put the same funky googly eye-looking sprinkler head on the hose so they can run through the water on the same lawn I did.


And while we were at my mom's house last week, I pulled out my old copy of Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day and read that thing to K2 every night at bedtime. She positively ate it up. [She can't say words that start with "s" very well, so she transposes the name and asks for the "nose book."]

The Snowy Day is just one of those books that's so entrenched in childhood, it becomes invisible. We have a boardbook version at home, but somehow, flipping through an old hardcover copy made me sit up and take notice of how incredible Keats' artwork is. And how carefully crafted the story is.

And that's even before you realize how controversial the book was when it came out in 1962. Not only did Keats have a black, city kid as his main character, he shockingly treated it as the most normal thing in the world.

It's one of these quietly, awesomely revolutionary books--like Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson's Ferdinand and The Cat in the Hat and Where The Wild Things Are--whose awesomely revolutionary nature is completely lost on a kid. He only finds out about it after he grows up and starts reading those books to his own kid.

I think I'll dig into the history of Ezra Jack Keats and his work a bit this week and see what turns up.

Shop the entire Peter-related oeuvre on Amazon's Ezra Jack Keats author page [amazon]


I loved this book when I was a child, my little devil does now.

There is something magical about the almost Matisse-like images and the gentle turns of phrase.

there's a page in A Letter to Amy, I think, that is the most extraordinary depiction of city living from a kid's perspective. . .I looked into buying a print of it a few years ago for the kid's wall, and discovered there's a site out there somewhere that sells his original work.

we're big fans of whistle for willie.

Ditto, ditto, ditto.

After sharing this book with my kid just as you did, I discovered that Westin Woods/Scholastic have a WHOLE DVD of EJ Keats.

Trust me, this one was watched A LOT. The illustrations are classic Westin Woods( meaning completely authentic to the book) and the music awesome.

Would it be too redundant to say ditto again?

We saw a guy on a motorcycle recently with a beautiful tattoo on his bicep of Ferdinand under the cork tree; we wanted to honk but were afraid of causing a Ferdinand-related traffic accident. Anyway, the best books really stay the best books; you can only hope to add some to the list.

adore EJK (and his family's foundation still gives grants to public school libraries, big ups). he took crap from all quarters -- not only for depicting black urban children, but for being a white guy doing so. some african-americans felt that his portrayal of peter's mother was racist, uncomfortably close to mammydom. (leonard marcus's book about the history of children's literature, the minders of make-believe, is exhaustive and kind of slow-going, but a totally worthy read, and has some good EJK stuff.)

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