The neighbors didn’t think much of the premature baby when Benjamin Katz brought his son Ezra home after his release from the hospital incubator. Comments were made about how skinny he was. Seeing how frail he looked, someone finally asked the big question, “Do you think he’ll make it?”
Ben held his fingers above Ezra’s head and said, “Watch.” After the baby grabbed hold, his father said, “See that rascal with the spaghetti fingers is pulling himself up. See how strong he is!”
The date was March 11, 1916, and even Benjamin Katz could not have guessed what those fingers would do. In time, anti-Semitism would cause the grownup Jacob Ezra Katz to change his name to the more acceptable Ezra Jack Keats. If you love children’s books at all, you can anticipate where this is going.
‘Tis the season for lists of books children should read from all sorts of groups. I don’t remember seeing one that did not include The Snowy Day, and quite often it leads the list. A marker in children’s literature as the first full color picture book to feature a Black child in a non-stereotypical manner, its real appeal is to the everychild. Peter goes out and does the things any kid does in the snow. The wonder when his snowball melts in his pocket seems familiar. That book was just the beginning for Keats. I have a basketful of his works that followed. And Keats’ influence is not over.
In a month, the 2015 Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards and Honor Books will be presented at the Fay B. Kaigler Book Festival. [www.usm.edu/childrens-book-festival] If these new writers and illustrators follow the path of those who have been selected before them, more books and more recognitions are on the way. Maybe they will even return to the festival in a different capacity as presenters Don Tate and Deborah Wiles are doing this year.
I haven’t read these new books yet, [www.ezra-jack-keats.org/ezra-jack-keats-award-winners] but I will after I buy them for a couple of really cute redheads. Look for that blog after the April festival.
Did that rascal with the spaghetti fingers make it? He did, and the awards in his honor are pointing us to still more writers and illustrators who are following his foot tracks in the snow.