Becoming Ezra Jack Keats

Univ. of Mississippi. (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography). Feb. 2023. 232p. Tr $25. ISBN 9781496844743.
Those who loved The Snowy Day and other picture books by Ezra Jack Keats will find this biography informative and illuminating. Relying on Keats’s unpublished autobiography, Butler deftly conveys the life story of the beloved children’s author, with emphasis on his experiences and how they made their way into his stories and illustrations. The Brooklyn born and raised son of poor Jewish immigrants survived a tough childhood inhabited by poverty, gangs, eccentric relatives, and ambivalent parents. However, Keats showed promise as an artist from an early age, and an accidental discovery of the local library opened the world of artwork through which he further developed his innate abilities. After years of painting signs and designing book jackets for others, he drew upon his childhood experiences to create The Snowy Day for which he won the Caldecott. Butler does an excellent job portraying the man and the artist. Virtues and vices are both related: he was strongly antiracist, and for years was addicted to Seconal. Photographs of Keats and his art, located at the back of the book, satisfy readers’ curiosity about details included in the narrative. This is a well-written, factual, and intriguing biography that reads like a novel—a rare feat.
VERDICT This fine title will appeal especially to those nostalgic for Keats’s works. Public and school libraries should definitely consider.

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