The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

When "The Snowy Day" first came out, it was considered groundbreaking. Unprecedented. Here, at last, was a picture book in which the protagonist is black. It's not an overtly political book, mind you. Just a nice story about a kid in the city playing in the snow. Having heard about this story for a long time, I decided now was the moment to see how well this book has stood up over time. Ezra Jack Keats has long passed from idle picture book author to a somewhat god-like figure of the children's book world, so does this early work stand out even today? If it was introduced for the first time now, would it be considered as good as it is? Yes and no. The book is both a fabulous creation, and a very simple, very normal, tale that everyone on one level or another is familiar with.
In this book, Peter wakes up to discover that snow has covered the city in the night. Delighted, he pulls on his bright red (and now world known) snowsuit and plunges into a day of exploring and playing. He makes fun tracks, and hits snow off the branches of trees. He constructs a smiling snowman and slides down steep mountains of snow. At the end of the day his mother gets him out of his wet clothes and gives him a nice hot bath. The next morning the snow is still there, and an ecstatic Peter calls up a friend to do the whole day over again.
When I was a child I loved (and still do) stories that took place in the big cities. Keats never draws an inordinate amount of attention to Peter's surroundings. So while you won't see skyscrapers or taxi cabs, there's a distinctly urban feel to the lay of the land. The text is nice and easy for the youngsters to understand. As for the cut-outs, they're a delight to look at. Picture books featuring cut-outs may be remembered best as belonging to such artists as Eric Carle or Leo Lionni, but I consider Mr. Keats to be the granddaddy of the art form. Aside from the beauty of the landscaping in this pictures, I loved the papers used in the book. The section in which Peter sits on the snow, a snowball embedded on his chest, the black sky is a-swirl in greens, blues, and browns. When Peter slides down a snow covered embankment, the sky is then a delightful twisty series of white smoke-like curlicues. And Peter's home itself is eloquently rendered. From the wrought iron bed frame to the multicolored wallpaper and tiles that enhance the setting, the book is the best possible combination of elegance and realism.
If it came out today, "Snowy Day" wouldn't garner an overly enthusiastic response from publishers and critics. Which isn't to say that it's unworthy of the praise already received. As I've tried to show, the book is a wonderful amalgamation of text, pattern, and emotion. One of the finest books written for children, and a great evocative story.