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March 11 Marks The 100th Birthday Of Ezra Jack Keats GRANDFATHER OF DIVERSITY In Children's Illustrated Literature

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Acclaimed Author-Illustrator's Landmark Work
"The Snowy Day" Designated a "Book That Shaped America" by the Library of Congress

Ezra Jack Keats, the acclaimed author-illustrator of "The Snowy Day," which broke the color barrier in mainstream children's literature, turns 100 on March 11. 

His 1962 classic, with its protagonist a little African American boy in an iconic red snowsuit, was instantly embraced across social and racial boundaries. 

It was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963 and designated a "book that shaped America" by the Library of Congress in 2012.

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is making the late author-illustrator's centenary a year-long celebration with events planned across the country. 

Birthday parties for Ezra are on the calendars of museums in New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Houston and Los Angeles. 

Keats stories have inspired an original musical in Minneapolis and a musical revival in Manhattan. 

A park statue of Keats characters is being designated a Literary Landmark. And an animated holiday special based on Ezra's books is in the works.
"Ezra wanted all children to be able to see themselves in picture books," Deborah Pope, Executive Director of The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which supports efforts to foster children's love of reading and creative expression in our multicultural world, said. "With The Snowy Day and the nearly 30 picture books he went on to write and illustrate, Ezra transformed the landscape of children's literature."
"Many people don't realize that Ezra wasn't African American," Pope said. "However, he knew discrimination and poverty firsthand, and identified with people of different races and ethnicities who suffered similar hardships."
About Ezra Jack Keats
After The Snowy Day was awarded the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious children's book award at that time, Keats followed it up with some 30 books, most of which he both wrote and illustrated. His classic titles include Whistle for Willie, A Letter to Amy, Goggles!, Hi, Cat!, Pet Show!, Dreams, Louie and Regards to the Man in the Moon. Two of his popular titles with adapted text are The Little Drummer Boy and Over in the Meadow.

One of Keats's signature story elements is that his characters are consistently challenged with real problems that are recognizable to young readers. They deal with them, change their outlook and grow. Yet, as children do, his characters live in their imaginations, a world to which the adult Keats had extraordinary access.

The illustrations in his books are a timeless draw for children. The unique look of The Snowy Day—made with bright colors, collage, patterned paper and fabric, and spattered ink—was new to Keats. "I was like a child playing," he wrote. "I was in a world with no rules." In subsequent books, he blended collage with gouache and used marbled paper, paints, ink and photographs in more complex compositions. His artwork demonstrates an enormous emotional range, swinging from exuberant whimsy to deep desolation and back again. That such highly dramatic narratives occur in children's ordinary, everyday lives was part of Keats's secret knowledge of childhood.

Generations of children have recognized themselves in the books of Ezra Jack Keats, experiencing the joy of a day in the snow, the magic of imagination, the strength in friendship. He knew that experiences like these belong to children of all races and wanted to make sure children understood that, too.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Keats established The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation in 1964. After his death in 1983, Martin Pope, Keats' best friend from childhood, and his wife, Lillie Pope, led the Foundation into the field of education with programs that extended to future generations of children the kind of help and encouragement that kept Keats going when he was growing up.

Now under the leadership of Deborah Pope, daughter of Martin and Lillie, the Foundation supports arts and literacy programs in public schools and libraries; cultivates new writers and illustrators of exceptional picture books, and promotes increased diversity in children's literature.

Keats. Imagination. Diversity.

For more about the Foundation, please visit the ezra-jack-keats.org.

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