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The snow day

Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats this classic children's book features a boy named Peter exploring his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the season. Keats received the 1963 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in the book.

Keats started solely as an illustrator for the work of other authors. But he soon observed that few children's books showcased an African-American or other minority child as the main character. Published in 1962, The Snowy Day was the first book Keats both authored and illustrated, and was a milestone for featuring the first African-American protagonist in a full-color picture book. “None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids."Keats wrote in an unpublished autobiography. During this time in America the civil rights movement was in full swing and the book did receive some criticism most notably because Keats was not African American.

Peter in The Snowy Day was inspired by a strip of photographs of an African-American boy that Keats had clipped from a May 1940 issue of Life magazine. “Years ago, long before I ever thought of doing children’s books, while looking through a magazine I came across four candid photos of a little boy about three or four years old,” said Keats in his acceptance speech for the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, which he won for The Snowy Day in 1963. “His expressive face, his body attitudes, the very way he wore his clothes, totally captivated me . . . . As the years went by, these pictures would find their way back to my walls, offering me fresh pleasure at each encounter. In more recent years, while illustrating children’s books, the desire to do my own story about this little boy began to germinate. Up he went again—this time above my drawing table. He was my model and inspiration.”

The source for the story-line, Keats noted, came from his memories of snowy days in his Brooklyn childhood. Above all, Keats wanted to capture the wonderment of a child’s first snowfall, a feeling universal to all children, regardless of race. The Snowy Day was immediately welcomed by educators and critics and embraced by the public. The book is noteworthy not only as a benchmark in racial representation in literature, but also for the simplicity of the writing. That coupled with lovely artwork done in collage style that up until this point had never been used in a children's book. This book really does belong on every children's bookshelf.