News / Arts & Entertainment

    New York Exhibit Highlights Books About African Americans

    Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Republican Charles Baker reads 'The Snowy Day,' by Ezra Jack Keats on National Literacy Day to children at a toy store in Canton, MA, USA. (File Photo - October 7, 2010)
    Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Republican Charles Baker reads 'The Snowy Day,' by Ezra Jack Keats on National Literacy Day to children at a toy store in Canton, MA, USA. (File Photo - October 7, 2010)
    Jane Friedman

    Shakespeare asked, "What's in a Name?"

    A lot, it turns out.

    Take Ezra Jack Keats, the famous children’s book author and illustrator, who died in 1983.

    Keats wrote and illustrated more than 20 children’s books. Most featured African American children - at a time when that was unheard of.

    But here's the surprise.

    Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz.  That's a Jewish name.  His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Katz was white.

    Early in his career, he changed his name to Keats, a very Christian name.    

    Keat's groundbreaking book, The Snowy Day, published 50 years ago, was the first color picture book featuring an African American child - and not in a racist way.  

    Keat's work is now the subject of a retrospective at New York’s Jewish Museum.

    “Many people think he was African American. Nobody I encountered knew he was Jewish," said Claudia Nahson, the curator.

    Why did Katz change his name? 

    “Anti-Semitism was prevalent still after World War II," said Nahson. "It was hard to find a job as an artist with a Jewish name.”

    Keats broke boundaries. His first book, My Dog Is Lost, followed Juanito, a Puerto Rican kid newly arrived in New York. Juanito was trying to find his dog who was lost.

    “There were not so many books that featured minorities at that point," said Nahson. "So that was a kind of prequel to pave the way for him to create Peter.”

    Peter, the main character in The Snowy Day, is a kid like any other. He goes out in the snow for the first time and comes home with a snowball in his pocket. He expects to find it the next morning.  

    Keats wrote six more books about Peter, showing him in his gritty New York slum at a time when children’s books showed white children in well groomed neighborhoods, playing with other white kids.

    Jerry Pinkney is an African American and a children's book illustrator. He read The Snowy Day to his own children.

    “We were trying to find reading material for them and naturally, as people of color, we were looking for books that would reflect their image or mirror back their image," said Pinkney. "For people of color, all of a sudden there was this book that dealt with contemporary African American life.”

    The illustrations in this exhibit are bold in color and striking in their depiction of African American kids - with the facades of their apartment buildings covered in graffiti.

    Keats,or Katz, grew up poor. His family struggled.

    But he didn’t write about his own neighborhood or about Jewish children.  

    “The whiteness of children’s literature was a major concern. He said he created Peter because he should have been there all along," said Claudia Nahson. "That absence didn’t make sense to him."

    Jerry Pinkney has won awards for his book illustrations. He says more needs to be done to diversify children's literature, but he is grateful to Keats.

    “There’s a tremendous sense of courage to risk entering an area that had not really been gone into," said Pinkney. "Ezra was really the first. My appreciation and respect continues to grow.”

    The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats continues in New York through January and then travels to other US cities.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    New in Music Alley

    Soul Lounge: Sweet Honey in the Rocki
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 10, 2016 1:48 PM
    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B. The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.

    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B.   The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.