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

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”