Ezra Jack Keats (March 11, 1916 – May 6, 1983) , Caldecott-winning author of The Snowy Day, was one of the giants of 20th Century children’s literature. Perhaps only Maurice Sendak has had as great an influence on picture book illustration. Keats is best known for introducing multiculturalism into mainstream American children’s literature. He was one of the first children’s book authors to use an urban setting for his stories and he developed the use of collage as a medium for illustration.*
The original artwork for Keats’ picture books are all housed at the De Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. But throughout his life Ezra remained a fine artist as well as an illustrator.
“I was born into a Brooklyn neighborhood that was 95% Jewish but within 10 years it was 95% black so I developed a lifelong interest in racial issues. Because I was Jewish and had black protagonists in some of my books, folks kept asking me if Keats had been an influence. So I thought I’d best check him out. I was blown away and became a fervent enthusiast (I think his book Goggles is a masterpiece of the picture book form). Of course I wanted to know everything about this man, and I soon discovered he grew up in the same neighborhood as I did—just a few blocks away, and he attended the same high school as did both of my parents.
Keats’ quickly became my guiding light, and he was consciously in my mind while I was writing Busing Brewster, which amazingly was illustrated by RG Roth in a collage style reminiscent of Keats’ work, though RG and I did not discuss this influence. I was never happier with a review than when the NY Times praised my book and compared it to the work of Ezra Jack Keats.” – Richard Michelson