Born Ezra Jack Katz in Brooklyn to Polish Jewish immigrants in 1916, Keats was a largely self-taught artist who would go on to become the pioneering author of children’s books of “The Snowy Day, the most viewed book of all time in the New York Public Library. .
Published in 1962, “The Snowy Day” tells the story of a young boy named Peter who experiences the magic of freshly fallen snow on the streets of his urban neighborhood. It was one of the first mainstream children’s illustrated books to feature an African American child and is credited with breaking the barrier to diversity in children’s publishing.
The book won the Randolph Caldecott Medal in 1963, an annual award for the best illustrated children’s book of the year.
Its success is due in part to its universal appeal, according to Andrew Medlar of the New York Public Library.
The life of Ezra Jack Keats
Unable to attend art school despite three scholarships, he worked to support his family and took art classes when he could. Some of the jobs he held were as a wall painter with the Works Progress Administration and a comic book illustrator, most notably at Fawcett Publications, illustrating the backgrounds of the Captain Marvel comic book.
He joined the Army in 1943 and spent the remainder of World War II designing camouflage patterns. In 1947, he legally changed his name to Ezra Jack Keats in reaction to the anti-Semitism of the time. He never got married.
By the time of his death in 1983, Keats had illustrated over 85 books and wrote and illustrated 22 children’s classics.