SCHUMER: AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR, ILLUSTRATOR EZRA JACK KEATS SHOULD BE HONORED FOR HIS WORK IN BREAKING THE COLOR BARRIER IN CHILDREN’S BOOKS; URGES U.S. POSTAL SERVICE TO APPROVE & RELEASE KEATS’S STAMP SERIES THIS YEAR IN COMMEMORATION OF WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HIS 100TH BIRTHDAY
Ezra Jack Keats, Born in March of 1916 to Polish-Jewish Immigrants in Brooklyn, is Best Known for His Picture Book—“The Snowy Day”—Which Featured a Young African-American Boy Named Peter; Keats Was an Important Literary Figure in U.S. History Because He Showcased Multiracial Characters in His Picture Books & Used Techniques Like Collaging Which Made Him Stand Out as a Unique Illustrator
Schumer Urges U.S. Postal Service to Feature Illustrations from Keats’s “The Snowy Day” in 2016 Stamp Collection; Schumer Says Stamps Should Be Released This Year to Commemorate 100th Year Since Keats’s Birth
Schumer: Keats is an Inspiration & Role Model to Children & Deserves to Be Recognized for his Achievements
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the United States Postal Service (USPS) to issue stamps featuring illustrations by author Ezra Jack Keats to commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday. Keats, who was born on March 11th 1916, illustrated more than 85 books and was recognized around the world for his artwork. Specifically, Keats’s illustrations often featured multiracial characters and one of his most famous books, The Snowy Day, broke the color barrier in children’s publishing. Schumer today said that the USPS should approve a series of stamps with illustrations from The Snowy Day. As a testament to Keats’s cultural contribution and a celebration of what would have been Keats’s 100th birthday, Schumer is pushing the release of the stamp series during the winter of 2016.
“Ezra Jack Keats showed us that art can be a powerful form of expression and through his picture books he motivated a generation of children to develop an appreciation for literature,” said Schumer. “A native New Yorker who followed his dreams and quite literally drew himself out from poverty, Keats is an inspiration to all of us and deserves to be recognized for his achievements. The United States Postal Service should approve and release a stamp series in honor of Ezra Jack Keats this year!”
Ezra Keats was born to Polish-Jewish immigrants in 1916 and grew up in Brooklyn. Keats’s talent for art was apparent in his early childhood and he received various awards throughout his years in grade school for his works. After he graduated from high school, Keats worked as a mural painter for the Works Progress Administration and as a comic book illustrator. His artwork became more renowned when his illustrations began to appear in Reader’s Digest, the New York Times Book Review, and Collier’s. Elizabeth Riley from Crowell Publishing recognized Keats’ talent and asked him to illustrate Jubilant for Sure, by Elizabeth Hubbard Lansing in 1954. Keats published the first of his own books in 1960, My Dog is Lost!, which marked a turning point in his career. Two years after his first children’s book, Keats published a second book, The Snowy Day. He received the Caldecott Medal in 1963, awarded to authors of illustrated children’s books. He combined various techniques including collage and gouache, which distinguished him from other illustrators and gave him his own personal style. He was asked to design greeting cards for UNICEF, sets for the musical production, The Trip and a poster for the New Theatre of Brooklyn. These projects point to his versatility as an artist, but they also show how well-recognized Keats was for his abilities.
In 1940, Keats saw a picture in Life Magazine of a young African-American boy from Georgia named Peter. Peter was the inspiration for the main character in The Snowy Day and six more of Keats’s books. Prior to Peter, African Americans had only appeared as caricatures in children’s books. Keats’s decision to use an African-American boy as the hero of his story helped break the color barrier and empowered children of all races to see past the status quo.
The United States Postal Service has a long history of publishing stamps to honor individuals in the field of literary arts who have made an impact on the lives of others. For instance, authors like John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, and Nathanial Hawthorne have been honored with a stamp. Moreover, other individuals have been honored. Robert Robinson Taylor appeared in the Black Heritage series of stamps and was commemorated for his commitment to the fields of education and architecture. Charlton Heston and Ingrid Bergman were recognized in the Legends of Hollywood stamp series for their acting abilities. Wilt Chamberlain, a pro basketball player, was featured on a stamp issued in 2014 by the USPS. Maya Angelou, Harvey Milk, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Shirley Chisholm are among the multitude of individuals present on the commemorative stamps. While the nature of their contributions are varied, the one thread that brings all of these individuals together is their long-lasting mark on the world.
Schumer today said that an impressive individual like Keats deserves to be recognized on what would have been his 100th birthday. Schumer is calling on the USPS to recognize Keats’s influence by publishing a series of stamps that feature illustrations from The Snowy Day. Schumer said that once the stamps are published, Keats will go on to join the ranks of individuals who have been honored for touching the lives of others.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:
March 8, 2016
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
Washington, DC 20260-3501
Dear CSAC Chair Klug:
I am pleased to write in support of the creation of a commemorative stamp honoring beloved children’s author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats and his famous book, The Snowy Day.
A native New Yorker, Keats was born in 1916 and raised in Brooklyn. Showing his talent from a young age, his illustrations appeared in Reader’s Digest, the New York Times Book Review, and Collier’s, and on the jackets of popular books. In 1960 he published his first book, My Dog is Lost, co-authored with Pat Cherr. Over the course of his career, Ezra Jack Keats illustrated over 85 books, and wrote and illustrated 22 children’s classics. His most famous book, The Snowy Day, broke the color barrier in children’s illustration and made a profound impact on American literature and upon countless American children and parents.
Published in 1962, The Snowy Day tells the story of a young African-American boy named Peter who explores his neighborhood after a recent snowstorm. It was the first book that Keats both authored and illustrated, and was significant as the first full-color book to feature an African-American as the protagonist. “The Snowy Day” is a sublime book that perfectly captures the innocence of childhood – as its hero Peter wanders here-and-there in the newly fallen snow. He interacts with kids in his neighborhood, but mainly he uses the snow as a psychic trampoline to vault into his fertile imagination, creating art, fun and mischief on the cold, white wonderland. The setting is urban and modern, but the joy and wonderment Peter exudes is universal.
In 1963 The Snowy Day was awarded the Caldecott Medal, the most distinguished honor available for illustrated children’s literature at the time. It remains a treasured classic and in 2007 was named by the National Education Association as one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children.” Fortunately for kids now and in the future, unlike the snowball he sneaks into his pocket at the end of his adventure, Keats’s masterpiece is a treasure that will last forever.
It has come to my attention that there is an effort to spur the creation of a commemorative stamp in honor of this historic literary figure. I hope the nomination for a commemorative stamp in honor of Ezra Jack Keats and The Snowy Day meets with your approval.
Thank you for your consideration. For additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or my postal staffer, Marissa Emanuel, in my Washington office.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator