Whether you are expecting snow or not, whether you are a child or not, a good book for beginning the new year is Andrea Pinkney’s A Poem for Peter. The poem honors the little brown boy who symbolizes every child who plays in the snow in The Snowy Day and pays homage to its author.
The first lines set the tone:
Brown-sugar boy in a blanket of white.
Bright as the day you came onto the page.
From the hand of the man who saw you for you.
In poetic form, the story is told of Peter who waited in a series of four photographs for twenty years in Keats’s studio before becoming the protagonist of The Snowy Day. Woven into the story is Keats’s own struggle with anti-Semitism:
To help himself get a job,
Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz
rearranged his name.
Shortened that name,
Twisted its rhythm.
Helped it roll off the tongue.
Then Andrea Pinkney adds a touching point that subtly connects Peter and his creator as people who have felt bigotry and intolerance.
Yes, yes – Ezra Jack Keats.
Had a nice ring to it – for some.
The mood of the poetic book, if not its form, takes me back to English poets who wrote odes to people and things they wanted to venerate. Two threads wind through the story honoring the boy Peter and the author Keats, creating a picture of the “story behind the story” of The Snowy Day. In addition, illustrators Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher weave the illustrations of The Snowy Day into this story seamlessly in a way that will satisfy the most avid Keats fan.
My recommendation is to read The Snowy Day followed by A Poem for Peter, but feel free to change the order. Just don’t miss either one.