Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Tribute to Ezra Jack Keats

For my next art session, I am going to be offering 2 classes devoted to children's book art. One author/illustrator we will be looking at and creating our own work of art inspired by, is Ezra Jack Keats. I still have several copies of his books from my childhood in the 1960's. My copy of Whistle For Willie is marked for 75 cents! He is one of my favorites because of his bold use of forms and colors, as well as his unique combination of collage and painterly style.
I did a little research about him and found his story so compelling, I wanted to pass it along.

Ezra was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1916 to poor Polish immigrants of Jewish descent. He excelled in art throughout school. At the time of the great depression in 1933, his family suffered hardships, as did most people in his neighborhood. While his mother encouraged his art, his father wanted him to focus on more practical skills. In January 1935 Ezra was awarded his high school's award for excellence in art. Sadly his father died in the street of a heart attack the day before he was to receive this award. Ezra was called to identify the body. It was at this time that he discovered in his father's wallet all the newspaper clippings of Ezra's artistic accomplishments.

Keats went on to work as an illustrator for a variety of publications as well as a fine artist. In the early 60's, Keats published the children's book, The Snowy Day, which received the Caldecott Award. It and 6 other books feature Peter, a young black boy in the streets of New York who would be Keats "hero." He introduced children to an urban world and a main character most had not experienced before in books.

The picture above was inspired by Whistle for Willie about the little boy, Peter who is yearning to learn to whistle so he can call his dog. Different colors of construction paper were used to create the city scene. I used foam stickers and small rectangles of sponge to print graffiti and bricks in Keats' style. I did marker drawings of Peter and Willie as they appear in the book. I will adapt this project for little hands for my classes next month.(The top picture is the actual cover from the 1962 copywrite version of the book)


  1. I love this! Also, thanks for following my blog, even though it has nothing to do with art teaching. The link to that site will always be there though :) Happy New Year!!!

  2. Maybe I'll start adding favorite student lessons though now??? Just to spice things up...


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