The Snowy Day

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The Snowy Day
AuthorEzra Jack Keats
IllustratorEzra Jack Keats
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's picture book
PublisherViking Press
Publication date
LC ClassPZ7.K2253 Sn 1978

The Snowy Day is a 1962 children's picture book by American author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats. It features Peter, an African American boy, who explores his neighborhood after the season’s first snowfall. Keats received the 1963 Caldecott Medal for his collage artwork, which made The Snowy Day the first picture book with an African American protagonist to win a major children’s award.[1]  


Peter, The Snowy Day's protagonist, wakes up to the season’s first snowfall. In his bright red snowsuit, he goes outside and makes footprints and trails through the snow. Peter is too young to join a snowball fight with older kids, so he makes a snowman and snow angels and slides down a hill. He returns home with a snowball stashed in his pocket. Before he goes to bed, Peter is sad to discover the snowball has melted. The next day, he wakes up to tons more falling snow. With a friend, he ventures outside again.[2]

About the author[edit]

Keats, born Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, grew up in a poor Jewish family with immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. Following his service in World War II, he changed his last name from Katz to Keats to avoid anti-semitism and to find work in the book publishing industry.[3] Keats’s experience living in tenement housing surrounded by children of different cultures and ethnicities can be seen in his books.[1] For example, he and co-author, Pat Cherr, featured minority children in their first work, My Dog is Lost! [4] However, none of Keats's more than 30 illustration jobs featured black children prior to The Snowy Day.[5] If he wrote and illustrated his own book, Keats always knew the hero would be African American.[1]

History of The Snowy Day[edit]

Two years after My Dog is Lost! was published, Keats began working on his first solo project. He was inspired by a set of photographs of an African American boy from a 1940 edition of Life magazine that had hung in his studio for over two decades.[6]  Keats noted the storyline came from his memories of snowy days in his Brooklyn childhood.[7]

Similar to the haiku poetry in which he found inspiration, Keats applied simple and straightforward text to The Snowy Day. Words were chosen to capture a mood and were further enhanced by colorful settings. Asian art influences are seen throughout the story, giving readers a wintry theatrical backdrop across the width of two book pages.[8] The Snowy Day's illustrations rely on a combination of collaged decorative paper, fabric and cloth. Keats created a homemade snowflake stamp and spattered India ink with a toothbrush to add embellishments.[3] While he was not trying to make a statement about race, The Snowy Day was one of the first books to feature a non-caricatured African American protagonist.[9] His groundbreaking illustrations and simple story earned him the Caldecott Medal in 1963. His character, Peter, went on to appear in Whistle for Willie (1964), Peter's Chair (1967), A Letter to Amy (1968), Goggles! (1969), Caldecott Honor Medal book, Hi, Cat! (1970), and Pet Show! (1972).[10]

In later works that featured Peter, Keats added gouache, a watercolor and gum hybrid that resulted in an oily glaze. The simplicity that characterized The Snowy Day gave way to complex artwork, as Keats' toolkit grew to encompass marbled paper, acrylic and watercolor paints, inks and old photographs. The works are emotionally evocative and rely on painting techniques that include cubism and abstraction.[3]


Keats aimed to capture the wonder of a child’s first snowfall.[5] While some critics questioned whether or not Keats––a white Jewish man––could rightfully tell the story of an African American child, most early reviews of the book focus on its collage illustrations instead of the protagonist’s race. However, as the Civil Rights Movement progressed, The Snowy Day became the subject of more scrutiny. One common criticism revolved around Peter’s lack of authentic African American culture and experiences.[11] Nancy Larrick's 1965 article “The All-White World of Children’s Books” thought Peter’s mother resembled a mammy stereotype.[12] Being at the center of race-based objections upset the author greatly.[13] Keats maintained his character was based on his own mother, and the author, who was no stranger to discrimination himself, was puzzled by the idea of assigning a race to children playing in the snow.[9]

Even though The Snowy Day was criticized for tokenism, Keats portrayed African American children with previously unseen positivity. Prior to The Snowy Day, the few children's books that featured African American children relied on negative stereotypes.[1] Fan letters for Keats' book came from numerous African American activists, educators, and children who included their own collage artwork. One teacher told Keats that, for the first time, she watched as children selected brown crayons for their self-portraits.[9] By the 1980s, critics began to recognize how far The Snowy Day had come from the stereotypical depictions in Little Black Sambo. A 50th anniversary edition of the book was published in 2011 and featured photos of the child who inspired Peter and a letter from Langston Hughes.[14] Several contemporary honors and memorials also celebrate his vision of the universal human spirit.[14]


The Snowy Day was adapted as an animated preschool Christmas special released on Amazon Prime on November 25, 2016.[15] The special is narrated by Laurence Fishburne and includes the voices of Regina King and Angela Bassett. In it, an original song, "Snowy Day," was performed by Boyz II Men. In 2017, this adaptation was nominated[16] for five Daytime Emmy Awards, and won two.[17] The special made its linear television debut on Disney Channel on December 4, 2020.[18]

The book inspired Andrea Davis Pinkney’s A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day in 2016.[19]

The Snowy Day has been translated into at least 10 languages.[20]

Honors and memorials[edit]

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation created the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award in 1985, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award was established in 2001.[19]

The New York Public Library named The Snowy Day as one of its Books of the Century.[21]

Peter and his dog, Willie, are memorialized in a bronze statue in Imagination Playground in New York City.[22]

In 2017, the United States Postal Service honored The Snowy Day and Keats with four illustrations of Peter playing in the snow on its Forever Stamp.[23]

The Snowy Day was number one on the list of "Top Check Outs OF ALL TIME" by the New York Public Library.[24]


  1. ^ a b c d Martin, Michelle H. (2004). Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children's Picture Books, 1845-2002. New York: Routledge. pp. 51. ISBN 0-203-49471-7.
  2. ^ Keats, Ezra Jack, author. (1976). The snowy day. Puffin Books. ISBN 9780140501827. OCLC 1080339139.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b c Alderson, Brian. (1994). Ezra Jack Keats : artist and picture-book maker. Pelican Pub. Co. ISBN 1565540069. OCLC 29357015.
  4. ^ Keats, Ezra Jack. (1999). My dog is lost!. Viking. ISBN 0670885509. OCLC 39906016.
  5. ^ a b Berger, Maurice (2011). "One Small Step". The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. New York: The Jewish Museum. pp. 30–32. ISBN 978-0-300-17022-1.
  6. ^ Horning, Kathleen I. (2016). "The enduring footprints of Peter, Ezra Jack Keats, and The Snowy Day". The Horn Book Magazine. 92 (4): 70–77.
  7. ^ Nahson, Claudia J. (2011). The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. New York: The Jewish Museum. pp. X. ISBN 978-0-300-17022-1.
  8. ^ "The Contemporary Jewish Museum". The CJM. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c "'The Snowy Day': Breaking Color Barriers, Quietly". Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  10. ^ "Poetry Foundation: Ezra Jack Keats 1916-1983". Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  11. ^ Falkner, A. (2018). "Racialized space and discourse in the picture books of Ezra Jack Keats". The Journal of Social Studies Research. 42 (2): 171–184. doi:10.1016/j.jssr.2017.05.006.
  12. ^ Larrick, Nancy (September 11, 1965). "The All-White World of Children's Books". The Saturday Review: 65.
  13. ^ "Letters to the Book Review Editor, October 2, 1965, p. 38". Unz: The Saturday Review Archives. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Zipp, Yvonne (January 1, 2012). "'The Snowy Day,' first picture book with black child as hero, marks 50 years". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  15. ^ "The Snowy Day". Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  16. ^ "The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announces nominations for the 44th Annual Daytime EMMY® Awards" (PDF). Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  17. ^ "The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Announces Winners for the 44th Annual Daytime Creative Arts EMMY® Awards" (PDF). Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Pinkney, Andrea Davis; Fancher, Lou; Johnson, Steve (2016). A Poem for Peter: The story of Ezra Jack Keats and the creation of The Snowy Day. New York: Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group. ISBN 9780425287682.
  20. ^ "'The Snowy Day' celebrates its 50th anniversary". Christian Science Monitor. 2012-03-30. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  21. ^ "The New York Public Library's Books of the Century". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  22. ^ "Prospect Park Monuments - Peter & Willie : NYC Parks". Retrieved 2019-10-31.
  23. ^ "Postal Service to Dedicate Forever Stamps Honoring Diversity in Children's Books". Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  24. ^ Carlson, Jen (January 13, 2020). "These Are The NYPL's Top Check Outs OF ALL TIME". Gothamist.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Once a Mouse
Caldecott Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Where the Wild Things Are