I was so excited when I heard that the artwork of renowned children's book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats was going to be on exhibit at The Jewish Museum. I had read and loved his classic The Snowy Day during my childhood, and continued to discover and enjoy his other books as an educator and leader of family literacy workshops. The parents of these workshops were always pleased to receive their free copy of The Snowy Day, compliments of Learning Leaders.
So of course I jumped at the chance to go to the press preview. Imagine my (and other folks') delight when I saw a tenement/front stoop scene brought to life via a mural, chalk drawings on the floor, and real steps, accompanied by lots of bean bags where visitors could park themselves to read Keats' picture books. It was funny to look around and see adults sunk down deep into the bean bags. One visitor said to a nearby museum employee "I'm afraid if I get into the beanbag, I won't be able to get back up!" Seriously, I could have lounged there all day just taking everything in and enjoying the artwork.
While parked on the beanbag, I had an interesting conversation with Tabletmag.com's Marjorie Ingall about Mr. Keats' ambivalence about his Judaism. Since his characters are largely African America, many readers do not realize that Keats himself is Jewish. Do read Marjorie's article about this topic over at Tabletmag.com.
Another worthwhile piece of the exhibit to take note of is the glass-enclosed display featuring the history of the depiction of African American children in children's literature. A piece of the text accompanying the sampling of books over the decades which feature African American characters reads as follows:
"Throughout the 1970s and 1980s children of color could increasingly see realistic and positive reflections of themselves in picture books. Even so, today fewer than 10 percent of children's books have significant African-American content."
While at the exhibit, I also learned that Keats won the Caldecott Award for The Snowy Day in 1962 alongside of Madeleine L'Engle, the later of whom was bestowed with the honor of The Newberry Medal. Keats was so terrified of giving his acceptance speech, he considered the act of giving the speech as big of an accomplishment as receiving the award itself.
In the video which plays at the exhibit, children's book author illustrator Jerry Pinkney says this of Keats: "He opens up a world that the child feels he already owns, [thus] creating a partnership."
Pinkney will be giving a presentation about Keats' work and ther role of diversity in children's literature. The talk will be hosted by The Jewish Museum on Monday, October 17th at 11:30 am. For ticket information, click HERE.
The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats is the first major exhibition in this country to pay tribute to award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916–1983. It will be at the Jewish Museum until January 29, 2012.