Ezra Jack Keats is certainly an author/illustrator who needs no introduction, but I am over-fond of stating the obvious at times, I’m afraid. : ) Besides, this little blog o’ mine is as much a record of the books we read and enjoy here at the House of Hope as it is a public resource (‘though I surely hope it is that, too), and I would certainly be remiss if I did not include this giant in the world of children’s literature and his beloved works.
Ezra Jack Keats is perhaps best known for his Caldecott Award-winning book, The Snowy Day. Our own favorite here at the House of Hope, though, is Whistle for Willie. In this story, Peter of The Snowy Day fame works very hard to learn to whistle, and by the end of the story his efforts are rewarded. Like all good children’s picture books, it’s a simple story of childhood. Children will recognize themselves in the things Peter does: he turns around and around until he makes himself dizzy, hides in a box, dresses up and pretends to be his father, and finally, learns to whistle! Peter lives in simpler times when children are safe to be out and about in the neighborhood alone, and this is part of the charm of this and others of Keats’ stories.
We really like Peter around here, so Peter’s Chair is another big hit. In this story, Peter is adjusting to life with a new baby sister. The old green-eyed monster rears its ugly head, but in the end, Peter copes with becoming the big brother. My girls like this one a lot. Never let it be said that we have an entirely peaceful, devoid-of-sibling-rivalry existence here. I think we like this one so much because it reminds us of ourselves. : )
Peter appears in many other of Keats’ stories, and in fact, he grows up right before the reader’s eyes in them. For this reason, some of the stories will appear more to older children. For example, the issue of bullying by older boys is broached in Goggles! We read it, and Lulu even requests it, but I think it’s more a case of morbid curiosity than anything.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Keats is that he is such a varied and prolific writer and artist. Many of his books are peopled with African American children in an urban setting, but he has also interpreted legends, folktales, and folk songs. One of them is a personal favorite of mine, “Over in the Meadow.” Keats’ version is, of course, very similar to all of the others, but with his trademark illustrations. Really, these are not to be missed.
Ezra Jack Keats has even lent his name to an award: the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, given to a new writer and a new illustrator of children’s picture books each year. For more about Ezra Jack Keats, his books, the award, and even some interactive stuff for children, visit the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation web site!