In the interest of honesty, let me begin by saying Ezra himself never knew we had any affiliation. I never met the man in person. That being said, I’ve treasured our growing relationship.
The Snowy Day started it all. Three children in my house enjoyed the story before and during my first years of teaching young children. The kindergarten and second grade students in San Antonio, TX and Fort Polk, LA had never seen snow unless they had visited outside their home state or moved in from somewhere else, although my students in Germany were at least familiar with the white stuff. Either way, we painted and cut and made collage snow pictures just like Ezra. Of course, we followed that with reading about Peter’s other adventures with his friends and books featuring Maggie, Louie, and a few unusual animals.
Drawn to Hattiesburg, Mississippi when I retired from teaching, partly because of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection., I made my way to their exhibit soon after we moved and found the whole display area filled with Ezra Jack Keats memorabilia. Coincidentally, I had just received notice of a writing contest for a biographical article for nine-year-olds of someone who had made a difference but was not widely known. By the second display case, lights were going off in my head, and I returned with my pencil and paper to take notes from the beginning. As the first full color picture book to feature an African-American child in a non-stereotypical fashion, The Snowy Day with its creator pioneered in diversity in the world of children’s literature – a difference indeed!
Finishing fourth place in the contest, I relished the comment about my use of primary sources before beginning to think where to submit the article for publication. Highlights for Children published a call for art related stories and I responded. After a bit of conversation with an editor and some rewriting, the story came out in the February 2005 issue and has been resold three times.
As the fiftieth anniversary of The Snowy Day neared, Viking Publishers and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation needed a researcher to go through more than one hundred and seventy boxes of archives to find interesting items to add to their anniversary edition of the groundbreaking picture book – just my cup of tea! A friend, who had been director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s book festival, saw my growing interest in Keats and let me have her copy of the silver medallion they had awarded him for his body of work which she had put on a chain. I wear it with pride and gladly follow the conversations it instigates.
As I immersed myself in his story, other opportunities arose to help other researchers. Claudia Nahson credits me with sharing my “valuable research lists and findings” in the preface to The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, and K. T. Horning lists me as an “Ezra Jack Keats expert” who guided her through the Keats Archive for her article “The Enduring Footprint of Peter, Ezra Jack Keats, and The Snowy Day” for The Horn Book magazine.
I’ve enjoyed presenting his story as a program called “From Katz to Keats” for groups with ages from kindergarten to senior citizens. In a University of Southern Mississippi library contest to portray books in edibles, what would I do but make a Snowy Day cake? It did not win, but rumor has it that it got “most edible” after the show. At the Ezra Jack Keats Awards luncheon on the 100th anniversary of his birth, I wrote the script and selected the pictures for a video of his life and work. You may see it at this link. I received an invitation from the United States Postal Service but could not attend the dedication service for Snowy Day stamps, so I ordered mine online. On Christmas mail and for a long time afterwards, my letters will go out with Peter playing in the snow in the top right corner.
Is there more to come with Keats and me? I certainly hope so and hope you will stay tuned to see what happens next.