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November 19, 2014

THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats

As Teen Board member Yaira M. writes in her National Picture Book Month blog post, one of the most important things that a picture book can do is remind readers that they are “important and a part of the world” and each have a “story that could be told.”  Yaira felt this way when she read THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, which not only had wonderful images but also featured characters that looked like her.

The dry little corner tucked away in my Kindergarten classroom was one that I frequented with the free time I had. I ran my stubby fingers over the coarse rug and counted all of the colors I saw bound by puzzle pieces.

Beside the rug was a light brown shelf with an assortment of large books with large titles and vibrant covers. I saw caterpillars, cats in hats and trees. I scanned the shelf and stopped to asses a cover filled with fresh white snow and a blob of red. Beneath the red was a pop of brown skin, just like mine. The images were simple and sweet, perfect for me to trace as I sat on the rug in Ms. Barton’s room  

I would position myself on my stomach, on my back, cross-legged, and straight-legged until I could decide which reading position would be most conducive to the fun I was going to have as soon I dived into the precious book in my lap. I usually chose the cross-legged pose.

The words scrawled on the cover were THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats; and precious was truly what it was. This book displayed the power of resonance in literature. Even as a child I recognized the lack of racial diversity in the picture books that stood in the library for me to check out and run home with. This book reminded me that I was important and a part of the world, that I too had a story that could be told.

In my elementary school years I read many books based on African folklore but never was able to pick up a piece of fiction that featured a black human character. THE SNOWY DAY made a bold statement with its publication in 1962 and for me, continues to do so. I see it as a book that spreads a message about representation and assimilation through various arts. Children should be learning the value of diversity and the similarities we all share as curious, wondrous kids. It is a book I wish to show to my four-year-old niece who happens to fear snow; maybe she could acquire the bravery that Peter had!

Words are powerful, but pictures allow feelings to grow and touch the senses. 

Picture books are the initial way for children to open up their minds to what could potentially lie beyond apples and milk cartons. We saw worlds that we hadn’t known yet. Words are powerful, but pictures allow feelings to grow and touch the senses. When I watched Peter wake up to the snow, I felt the familiar cold of Massachusetts winter. I smelled the dirty ground after the cars ran through the snow in our school’s parking lot.

As an art enthusiast, I can’t help but flip through the pages of THE SNOWY DAY and catch the small beauty that lies in a red hood shrouded with white, black skin floating through the pages and purples and blues dirtying up the pristine white snow. The pictures in this book grew to become a way for me to embrace who I was without the need for explanation. Ezra Jack Keats gave every black child a place on the book shelf and more reason to read.