The United States Postal Service will issue four forever stamps on Oct. 4 reproducing scenes from Ezra Jack Keats’ classic children’s book, The Snowy Day.
The story of Peter, the boy in the red snowsuit, is summed up in the publisher’s blurb on the book’s dust-jacket flap: “The quiet fun and sweetness of this small boy’s small adventures in the deep, deep snow have the true quality of all childhood’s delight in contented solitude. Beautiful spacious pictures and just the right number of the right words tell a story to love and remember.”
Published in 1962, The Snowy Day won the Randolph Caldecott Medal the following year for the most distinguished picture book for children.
Participating in the ceremony will be Linda E. Johnson, the Brooklyn Public Library president, and CEO; children’s author Andrea Davis Pinkney, who wrote A Poem for Peter, The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day; Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation; and Roderick N. Sallay, USPS government relations, and public policy acting director.
In A Poem for Peter, Pinkney said, “As an African American child growing up in the 1960s, at a time when I didn’t see others like me in children’s books, I was profoundly affected by the expressiveness of Keats’s illustrations.”
The Snowy Day Stamps are being issued in a double-sided pane of 20, with five of each design. The first design shows Peter forming a snowball to put in his pocket to keep for the next day. In the second design, he is sliding down a “heaping mountain of snow.” The third stamp depicts Peter making a snow angel, and the fourth shows the tracks he made while crunching through the snow with his toes pointing in.
Keats (1916-83), the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, grew up in Brooklyn, excelling at art at a young age. Although he received scholarships to attend art school, he worked to support his family instead (his father had died a day before Keats’ high school graduation in 1935).
His jobs during the Depression included working as a mural artist for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and as an illustrator of backgrounds for the Captain Marvel comics. Also, according to Keats’ biography on the website of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, he designed camouflage patterns while serving in the Army during World War II.
After the war, he studied art in Paris and then returned to New York to work as a commercial artist.
He began illustrating children’s books in the 1950s, and co-wrote and illustrated My Dog is Lost in 1960.
The Snowy Day came two years later, but the inspiration for the snowy day stamps for the character of Peter originated two decades earlier when Keats saw a series of black-and-white photographs in Life magazine of an African-American boy in Georgia reacting to a blood test.
Keats also tried new artistic techniques in the book. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation said that a “collage with cutouts of patterned paper, fabric, and oilcloth; homemade snowflake stamps; spatterings of India ink with a toothbrush — were methods Ezra had never used before.”
In addition to other awards and recognition, The Snowy Day was listed on the Library of Congress’ online exhibit “Books That Shaped America”. This listing honors The Snowy Day as the “first full-color picture book with an African-American as the main character.”
Among the more than 20 other books that Keats would write for children, six of them featured Peter. One of these, A Letter to Amy, even has a postal theme, showing Peter writing a party invitation and then venturing out in a storm to mail it. After he finished his invitation, Peter said, “Now I’ll mail it,” and his mother reminded him, “Put on a stamp.”
“The Snowy Day,” will be showcased in this set of four stamps. Written and illustrated by the children’s author, Ezra Jack Keats, it was one of the first prominent 20th-century picture books centered on an African-American child. Each of the four new stamps in this booklet features a different illustration of the main character Peter exploring and playing in his neighborhood while wearing his red snowsuit. The images picture Peter forming a snowball, sliding down a mountain of snow, making a snow angel, and leaving footprints in the snow.
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