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The Life And Works Of Ezra Jack Keats

1877 words - 8 pages

After a four week survey of a multitude of children’s book authors and illustrators, and learning to analyze their works and the methods used to make them effective literary pieces for children, it is certainly appropriate to apply these new skills to evaluate a single author’s works. Specifically, this paper focuses on the life and works of Ezra Jack Keats, a writer and illustrator of books for children who single handedly expanded the point of view of the genre to include the experiences of multicultural children with his Caldecott Award winning book “Snowy Day.” The creation of Peter as a character is ground breaking in and of itself, but after reading the text the reader is driven to wonder why “Peter” was created. Was he a vehicle for political commentary as some might suggest or was he simply another “childhood” that had; until that time, been ignored? If so, what inspired him to move in this direction?

Born in March of 1916 as Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, he was the third child to Benjamin and Augusta Katz. His parents were both Polish immigrants of Jewish descent and they raised him in East New York, the predominantly Jewish section of Brooklyn. As immigrants they were plagued with financial difficulties and this was further aggravated when they struggled through the Depression. Despite all of these hardships, Keats had already begun to showcase his artistic abilities. At the age of eight he was hired to paint the sign of a local store. Naturally, his father was quite proud of him when he earned twenty-five cents for his work and hoped that this might endeavor might lead to a steady career as a sign pa¬inter. Unfortunately for him, Keats was smitten with Fine Arts and won his first award in Junior High School: a medal for drawing. In High school he won a national contest run by the Scholastic Publishing Company for an oil painting of unemployed men getting warm around a fire.

Keats’ father Benjamin worked as a waiter at a coffee shop in Greenwich Village and was therefore all too familiar with the struggle to make a better life for you and your family. Although he had a great appreciation for Keats’ work, he discouraged him from making it a career for fear that his son would not be able to support himself. On one occasion he went so far ¬¬ to purchase tubes of oil paint and then gave them to Keats under the false pretense that a starving artist had traded them for a bowl of soup. Fortunately for future readers of his works, Jack was not deterred from his passion for art. When Keats graduated from high school he was awarded the senior class medal for excellence in art. In a cruel twist of fate, his father Benjamin died of a heart attack the day before he was set to receive the award. Although his father never saw Jack receive the award, he learned of his support when asked to identify his father’s body. As he checked his father’s wallet after his death he found several preserved article clippings of all of his achievements. His father...

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