Ezra Jack Keats (March 11, 1916 – May 6, 1983) was an American illustrator and author of children's picture books. Born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn, New York to a poor family of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Keats worked as a commercial artist throughout the 1940s and 1950s before finding his calling as a picture book illustrator.
His 1962 book The Snowy Day has been heralded as a major turning point in American children's literature as the protagonist Peter was the first African-American child to be the central character as opposed to being a token background character. The Snowy Day won the Caldecott Medal a year later in 1963. Peter went on to appear in at least six more books such as Whistle for Willie and Peter's Chair.
Keats was known for using mixed media throughout his books, mainly collage with a variety of papers. He would also combine this with pen, acrylic, watercolor, gouache and ink.
Keats died of a heart attack in 1983 but his legacy still lives on today. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation was founded in 1964 to promote diversity in literature and also manages the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award.
Select works by Ezra Jack Keats:
- My Dog Is Lost (1960)
- The Snowy Day (1962)
- Whistle for Willie (1964)
- Peter's Chair (1967)
- A Letter to Amy (1968)
- Googles! (1969)
- Apartment 3 (1971)
Tropes about Ezra Jack Keats and his work:
- Animated Adaptation:
- A couple of the books have been turned into short films such as Whistle for Willie narrated by Jan Harvey.
- The Snowy Day was turned into an animated film in 2016 on Amazon Instant Video, expanding the original story.
- Big Applesauce: Keats spent much of his life in New York City, specifically Brooklyn. This was also the setting for most of his books. Besides the books starring Peter, his first book My Dog Is Lost involves a Puerto Rican boy Juanito going all over New York City to find his lost dog; he goes through Little Italy, Chinatown, Park Avenue and Harlem during his search.
- Creator Provincialism: Keats set some of his books in New York City, seeing as he was from there and lived there for much of his life.
- Kid Hero: Peter in his own books and the protagonists of Keats' other books. Then again, these are children's books.
- MacGuffin: Some of Keats' books involved these such as the lost dog in My Dog Is Lost, the goggles in Goggles! and so on.
- Medium Blending: Keats worked with mixed media, using mainly collage of different papers and combining it with paints.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted with Peter. Peter is four years old in The Snowy Day but slowly grows up over the course of the following titles.
- Peter's younger sister, Susie, is born in Peter's Chair, and she also grows up over the course of later titles.
- Pen Name: Ezra Jack Keats was this; his real name was Jacob Ezra Katz. He even had his name legally changed to Keats in 1947, mainly due to anti-Semitic prejudice.
- Silence Is Golden: Later books by Keats such as ''Pssst! Doggie" were wordless.
- Special Guest: Keats appeared As Himself on at least four episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
- Starving Artist: Invoked by Keats' father. He would bring his son tubes of paint, claiming that starving artists traded him the paint for food at his restaurant.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: While his father was skeptical of an artist's potential income, he was secretly proud of his son's achievements. Keats learned of this when his father died of a heart attack and found inside his father's wallet newspaper clippings announcing Keats' art awards.