Ezra Jack Keats Books & Biography
Ezra Jack Keats's luminous paintings of city life and his unerring sense of the truly important dramas of childhood have been enchanting children for years. He began his career in children's books by illustrating other people's texts, but after a number of years decided to write his own. This decision gave him the freedom to circumvent the contrivance and rigidity he sometimes found in the texts he illustrated. His first attempt, The Snowy Day, was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963, and the books that followed won numerous awards and distinctions, including a Caldecott Honor.
In 1965 Mr. Keats was a contributing artist to UNICEF, and in 1973 the children's reading room of the Warrensville Public Library in Ohio was named after him. In 1974 he presided as the guest of honor at the opening of a children's roller-skating rink in Tokyo, Japan. The rink, which has a plaque bearing his name, was built in response to the enthusiasm for roller skating sparked by his book Skates!
Mr. Keats grew up in a tenement apartment in Brooklyn and began painting at a very early age, with the indulgent approval of his mother. He taught himself how to paint, using whatever materials he could find. One of the first times he received some paint...[there were] just a few colors, two of which were blue and white-and I covered a board with my blue paint. I dipped my brush into the white paint and dabbed it onto the board, shook the brush a little and let it trail off. I stepped back and got the greatest thrill I can remember. I saw a little cloud floating across a blue sky. It was very real to me, and I'll always remember it. What a tremendous feeling of gratification, to havecreated something like this! Even today, when I look up and see a tiny cloud floating across the sky with little wispy ends trailing off, I think of that time."
A recognized painter in his own right, Mr. Keats had his work displayed in some of the finest art collections in America. His books appear in seventeen languages, and a movie adaptation of The Snowy Day won a prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Ezra Jack Keats died in 1983. His manuscripts, original art, and correspondence are now in the outstanding De Grummond Collection of children's literature at the University of Southern Mississippi.