Our book of December is The Snowy Day! It is a 1962 children’s picture book by American author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats. It features Peter, an African American boy, who explores his neighborhood after the season’s first snowfall. Keats received the 1963 Caldecott Medal for his collage artwork, which made The Snowy Day the first picture book with an African American protagonist to win a major children’s award.
In the book, Peter, the protagonist, wakes up to the season’s first snowfall. In his red snowsuit, he goes outside and makes footprints and trails through the snow. Peter is too young to join a snowball fight with older kids, so he makes a snowman and snow angels and slides down a hill. He returns home with a snowball stashed in his pocket. Before he goes to bed, Peter is sad to discover the snowball has melted. The next day, he wakes up to more falling snow. With a friend, he ventures outside again. .
Keats aimed to capture the wonder of a child’s first snowfall. While some critics questioned whether or not Keats––a white Jewish man––could rightfully tell the story of an African American child, most early reviews of the book focus on its collage illustrations instead of the protagonist’s race. However, as the Civil Rights Movement progressed, The Snowy Day became the subject of more scrutiny. One common criticism revolved around Peter’s lack of authentic African American culture and experiences.
Even though The Snowy Day was criticized for tokenism, Keats portrayed African American children with previously unseen positivity. Prior to The Snowy Day, the few children’s books that featured African American children relied on negative stereotypes. Fan letters for Keats’ book came from numerous African American activists, educators, and children who included their own collage artwork.
The New York Public Library named The Snowy Day as one of its Books of the Century. Peter and his dog, Willie, are memorialized in a bronze statue in Imagination Playground in New York City. And in 2017, the United States Postal Service honored The Snowy Day and Keats with four illustrations of Peter playing in the snow on its Forever Stamp.
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