Tara and I took Rory and Violet to see the Ezra Keats exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center last weekend and it was magical. Ezra Keats won the Caldecott Medal at the height of the civil rights movement in 1962, for The Snowy Day, a picture book that was the first ever to feature an African-American protagonist.
From the exhibit label:
Keats did not want Peter to be “a white child colored brown. I wanted him to be in the book on his own, not through the benevolence of while children or anyone else,” he explained. “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”
Viking Press editor Annis Duff wanted The Snowy Day to be an important step toward racial equality in children’s picture books. Yay Annis Duff!
The exhibit itself was fun – when you walk in the door there is a bucket of yellow glasses, the same kind worn by Peter in another of Keats’s books, Goggles! We all put on the glasses and began to enjoy the child’s-eye level displays of Keat’s beautiful illustrations that depict a kid’s city life in vivid collage.
There was a ‘snowy’ bridge to walk over that made crunching sounds as you stepped, a real city apartment building stoop to sit on, and chairs from another set of illustrations. There were also video kiosks bringing each book to life in a story-telling format that captured Violet and Rory’s imaginations for some lengths of time.
At one point, Violet was disappointed that the glasses didn’t ‘do’ anything, so I seized the opportunity to tell her that they certainly did. I told her that when you put them on, you could let your imagination run wild about what you see in each of the illustrations. She looked at me sideways, put her glasses back on and turned her attention to an illustration of a tenement house, with lots of different moods and colors visible through windows to the street. She said, “Hey, you’re right!” and began pointing at each window and making up a scenario for what might be happening in that room.
Rory loved the drawing station in the nearby reading room where he got busy creating art, while I read some Ezra Keats to Violet in the bathtub. Why not?
Tara and I were thrilled at the final artist statement about his seminal book, The Snowy Day:
Above all, Keats wanted to convey an idea that had value for all children, regardless of race: “the joy of being a little boy alive on a certain kind of day, of being for that moment.”
You said it, Ezra!
The show continues at the Skirball until September 17th, so if you live in the Los Angeles area, check it out!