I went to mail a package the other day (to Peace Mennonite Church, in fact) and decided to buy some stamps. The postal worker didn’t need to sell me on set of images from Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day, the 1962 story of a little African American child who ventures out into the snow in his red snowsuit.
Like the best children’s books, The Snowy Day captures the small moments of wonder of snow–making footprints, thwapping the snow from branches with a stick, filling your pocket with the stuff–from a child’s perspective. The beautiful book won the Caldecott Award and represented black children in ways that weren’t racist caricatures. The book wasn’t radical at all–but it did something radical for African American children. As one teacher whose students read the book wrote to Keats:
‘The kids in my class, for the first time, are using brown crayons to draw themselves.’ ” Pope says. “These are African-American children. Before this, they drew themselves with pink crayons. But now, they can see themselves.”
I’d already purchased several sets of the stamps and used them in mailing most of our family’s Christmas cards and was familiar with both the story and the story of the story, but the postal worker told it to me anyway–which was a delight. In fact, he’s told it to me three times now, each time I’ve bought the stamps. That makes me really happy because it means he’s telling everyone who will listen. And now I am too, because it’s such a sweet story.
It’s also a reminder that the parents and grandparents of my own students grew up without reading books about children of color. Today, only about 10% of children’s book feature a main character of color, and we need more authors and illustrators of color in our libraries and classrooms and on our bookshelves. So we still have work to do, obviously. But it’s good to celebrate the work that has been done.
Above, young Peter steps out into the world on a snowy day. A new set of stamps honors The Snowy Day, which was published 55 years ago.
PS. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation maintains a playlist of readings and interpretations of The Snowy Day. You can see an animated version, a Claymation version, a marionette version, and more. A perfect way to spend your inside time on a snowy day!