I’m borrowing and expanding on a helpful suggestion for the season for the very young and the very young at heart from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. Their newly designed website at www.ezra-jack-keats.org has games, animated read-alouds and activities for kids, materials and opportunities for educators, and information for interested Keats enthusiasts. There’s also a place to sign up for their newsletter. This month’s edition has a great suggestion of three of his titles for the holiday season.
The first, The Snowy Day, reigns as a children’s favorite whether or not the kids will actually see snow. In San Antonio where I taught kindergarten or here in South Mississippi, children are more likely to be wearing short sleeves on Christmas Day than playing in the snow. Nevertheless, they celebrate the white stuff. My kindergarteners loved my imitation Keats snow banks on my bulletin board and the snow pictures they made with chalk on blue construction paper after we read his story. I feel sure children who live in snowy climates go out and reconstruct Peter’s activities in their own yards, although most of them know better than to try to save a snowball in their pockets.
The second suggestion, The Little Drummer Boy, is Keats’s illustration of the beloved story song of the little boy who had only his “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum” to play before the king. My copy was a Christmas present from my daughter. I took the gift to mean that I fit the very young at heart category.
The last book in the list, God Is in the Mountain, reflects a bit of his philosophy that is also on the website, ““If we could see each other exactly as the other is, this would be a different world.” He selected wise quotations from many cultures and religions and illustrated them in three colors. The title quote “God is in the mountain,” comes from Sikhism, but the sense of finding God in the mountain can be found in a number of religions. Moses and Mt. Sinai come readily to my mind.
It’s easy to see the inclusion, rather than exclusion, that was his way of life reflected in different ways in each of the books. Growing up as a Jewish child in a multicultural neighborhood, Keats appreciated those around him. I think my favorite example is the picture on the penultimate text page of The Little Drummer Boy. It reminds me of a story he told about peeking into a church with colored glass windows when he was a child and seeing a statue of a lady with a shawl over her head looking at her baby tenderly. I can’t help but wonder if that experience was in his head when he painted the picture. A culture not his own fed his art.
Children, young and not-so-young, have much to gain from seeing each other as they really are - perhaps a different and more peaceful world.