December 05, 2012

Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats

Here's what I want you to do: go to your local library, make your way to the picture book area (the "K" row, to be exact), and check out a copy of every single Ezra Jack Keats title they have in stock.  Take those books home, sit down, and read up!  

 I'm sure you know Keats for his much-loved book "The Snowy Day," which I've gone back to continually since I was a small child myself--but there's so much more where that came from!  I recently picked up a huge stack of picture books Ezra Jack Keats both wrote & illustrated; the size of my haul was so large, one of my storytime dads did a double-take when he saw me checking out so many books at once!  I've just picked a few to share here, but please do go beyond what I talk about below.  I find Keats's work to be both simple and complex, perfectly real & higly-imaginative, touching and inspiring.  To read several of his books purposefully is to undergo an art lesson.

Enough of my fawning--let's talk about some BOOKS!

The Snowy Day
The most famous one of all!  Such a simple tale: a boy gets up, goes out to play in the snow, and comes back home to bed--that's about it!  The simplicity of the words & shapes, though, allow the reader to insert themselves into the action.  I remember my favorite part has always been when Peter sticks a snowball into his pocket for later!  
Look at the art: Peter's bedding (is that actual fabric attached to the image?); the cut-out shapes of the tree, the snow drifts, the buildings & the big boys; and the stamped snow flurry that ends the story.

Whistle for Willie
Peter's back--and he's got a dog!  Peter wants to whistle to call Willie, but it's not easy.  He keeps at it though!  Like "The Snowy Day," this features Peter engaging in simple play outside: this time, he's spinning in circles, playing with his shadow, jumping, and drawing with chalk.  Also like that book, the text here is brief, and the art simultaneously simple & very, very complex.  I see line drawings, painting, collage, and stamping.  I love how when Peter gets dizzy, the red-yellow-green of the traffic signals bounce like balls in the air.

Peter's Chair
Peter's bigger than he used to be; in fact, he's got a new baby sister!  The bad news is, he's having a hard time giving up the things that are being taken away to give to the new baby.  Read this one to your big kids when they have a new baby brother or sister in the house.  Things to look out for here: the wallpaper!  Did Keats take some wallpaper samples from your parents' or grandparents' house?  Also, look under Dad's feet as he paints sister's high chair--he is actually standing on newspaper!

Hi, Cat!
What I love about this book is the imagination displayed by its protagonist, Archie, and the way the other children in the neighborhood (Peter included) enjoy and support the play.  The only thing getting in Archie's way is that cat he meets, but that'll turn out alright, too.  You may find yourself wanting to touch the walls & curtains in this book--they've got that much texture.

What an amazing book this is: the title character is not known by any of the other children to speak, but when they put on a puppet show, something vibrant is awakened within him.  I love the dream sequence in this book, as well as the creativity & kindness it portrays.

The Trip
Louie is back, just as imaginative and introspective (but yet tentatively outgoing) as before.  The art is colorful & stunning, a mix of drawing, painting, and paper & photo collage: look for Keats himself smiling from an open window!  An added bonus: Louie shows us how to create a city inside a shoebox.

Kitten for a Day
This one is more simple than the rest of Keats's work I am sharing with you here: there are very few words, and the images are a much more basic, painted illustration style.  When a puppy encounters a group of kittens, they welcome him, and they all do "kitten" things together.  Any child who has ever pretended to be a cat or a dog will love this story of friendship.

This list of books, as I've said, is just a start into exploring the works of Ezra Jack Keats.  Take your time sharing these with your child (or reading them to yourself).  Explore the images, talk about the action.  I think it's great the way most of these books don't take a lot of time ramping up, starting a story: we just join the action, already in progress!  Furthermore, the endings often give us a chance to think about--and talk about--what might be happening next.  There's a lot going on here!

For more on Ezra Jack Keats and his books, including curriculum guides, projects & online games, check out the website of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Do YOU have any favorite books by Ezra Jack Keats--or anyone else, for that matter?  Please tell me about them!  Also, please spread the word about these great books, check them out, and read up!

Click on this link & READ UP!  I have many more great books to share with you!

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