Of course, I could not leave picture book week without a contribution from Ezra Jack Keats. Apt. 3 is a current favorite. He draws from his youthful memories for paintings that reflect a dark beauty in the tenement apartments. For this book, he scarcely uses his signature collage, choosing to depict his characters with paint. Sam and Ben meander through the halls and staircase using their senses to learn what it happening behind the doors of the different apartments. The story harks back to his own childhood lived in the tenements and using his own senses to learn about his neighbors.
Attracted by the sound of a harmonica, the brothers smell cigarettes and cooking, hear a dog barking and a mother singing to a crying baby, and see a carton of milk outside a door. There is no sign of Sam’s friend Betsy. Their surprise is complete when they discover that a blind man is making the beautiful music and that even without sight, his ears have told him a lot of the building’s secrets – including Sam’s.
I love the window Keats gives showing life in the city to a country girl like me and the window he gives to the boys into the life of a man who may not see but has other ways of learning and of contributing to his community.
Keats must have loved the book himself. His archives at the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection contain a number of letters where he is checking the status of its publication.