BookPage Children's Top Pick, November 2016
As is the case for many of my generation, Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day is one of the first books I recall enjoying in my small West Virginia town, a glorious tale that will remain seared in my brain. At the time I simply loved the book and its red snow-suited hero, Peter, having no clue that this 1963 Caldecott Medal winner was groundbreaking, the first mainstream picture book to feature an African-American child.
A Poem for Peter highlights the fascinating story of the book and its creator, who was born 100 years ago in Brooklyn to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, began painting store signs in third grade and had to forfeit art school scholarships when his father died the day before his high school graduation.
Not only is Keats’ story compelling, but creative use of text and illustrations bring his world marvelously to life (with the added bonus of two short essays at the end). Andrea Davis Pinkney writes in “collage verse” or “bio-poem,” seamlessly weaving the biographical details of Keats’ life with commentary often addressed to Peter himself, noting how he and Ezra “made a great team” and how: “He dared to open a door. / He awakened a wonderland. / He brought a world of white / suddenly alive with color.”
In similar fashion, illustrators Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson use collage and their own lively artwork to incorporate images from five of Keats’ books, including The Snowy Day. Peter appears on the very first page and makes what Pinkney calls “peek-a-boo” appearances throughout, including a touching scene of Peter and Keats holding hands under a tree on a snowy day. This unique approach serves not only to thoroughly engage young readers but to effortlessly demonstrate how real-life experiences morph into literary influences.
An exceedingly well-done homage, A Poem for Peter is a visual and verbal treat for longtime Keats fans, as well as an exciting introduction for a legion of today’s young readers.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Take a peek inside A Poem for Peter.