Today's vintage children's book is by an outstanding illustrator and author in the field of children's books, Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983). But Keats' biggest contribution was his recognition of the lack of minority children as central characters in children's books and his breaking of this barrier. He was also one of the first children's books authors to use an urban setting for his stories. Keats' use of collage as a medium for his illustrations was also innovative. I love his use of color, texture and the timeless look in his illustrations.
Keat's first illustrated book for children was Jubilant for Sure (1954), by Elisabeth Hubbard Lansing. In the following 11 years he illustrated 54 books. Keat's first book that he wrote and illustrated was My Dog is Lost (1960). The main character is a Puerto Rican boy who loses his dog in New York and meets children from different parts of New York like Chinatown and Little Italy.
In 1963, Keats' book, The Snowy Day, received the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book for children. The main character of this book was Peter, whose inspiration came from a 1940 Life Magazine clipping of a young black boy. Keats' had this to say: "Then began an experience that turned my life around - working on a book with a black kid as the hero. None of the manuscripts I'd been illustrating featured any black kids--except for token blacks in the background. My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along. Years before I had cut from a magazine a strip of photos of a little black boy. I often put them on my studio walls before I'd begun to illustrate children's books. I just loved looking at him. This was the child who would be the hero of my book." Peter was in six more books after that, the last as an adolescent in Pet Show.
A Letter to Amy
Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
Harper & Row Publishers, 1968
Keats illustrated more than 85 children's books. The University of Southern Mississippi gave him an award for outstanding contributions in the field of children's literature. The Ezra Jack Keats Archive is housed there. In 1985, The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award was established to recognize and encourage authors and illustrators new to the field of children's books. To read more about this fine illustrator and author, click here.