From the Directors Samantha D. Montgomery & Kat Wodtke: THE SNOWY DAY & OTHER STORIES BY EZRA JACK KEATS

3:08 PM

Samantha D. Montgomery | Kat Wodtke 

Ezra Jack Keats was a poor, Jewish kid – the son of immigrants – who grew up in Brooklyn. His father pinched pennies out of his meager pay as a waiter at a local diner to buy half-used tubes of paint for his budding young artist at home. Unable to afford art school (even with three scholarship offers), Ezra went on to serve in World War II, returning home to signs that read: “No Jews need apply.” Ezra looked around his city and saw others being treated as less than. African-Americans and immigrants faced exclusion in housing, education, jobs, and other opportunities for advancement. Ezra knew what it felt like to be invisible, silenced, and treated like an outsider. His empathy grew and helped him understand the diverse experiences of others.

As Ezra began getting more opportunities as an illustrator, he noticed that children of color were not being positively represented in literature, if they were represented at all. When at last Ezra received an invitation to author and illustrate his first children’s book, he made a decision that would forever change children’s literature and the world. Inspired by a photo of a little, African-American boy he saw in Life Magazine, Ezra brought Peter to life: a funny, pouty, curious child. This was the first time – at the height of the Civil Rights Movement -- that America saw an African-American child placed center stage in a mainstream children’s book. And yet the story was not about race. It was the story of a child’s experience, playing in the snow. A story that spoke to children who had never seen themselves reflected in a book, as well as children who had only seen reflections of themselves. All children could crunch, slide, whack, and plop along with Peter.

With this production, we invite you to experience the sweet, fleeting moments that mark the growth and transformation of a child: first snow, learning to whistle, standing up for yourself, letting someone special know you care.

We encourage your family to continue engaging with stories that reflect your experiences, as well as the experiences of others who are different from you. This is how we discover our similarities and learn to embrace our differences. This is how we build connection and community. This is how we create a society where diversity is accepted and valued by all.

"Ezra Jack Keats gave all of us a place.                                 
A face.                                                                       
A voice.

Ezra Jack Keats gave us eyes to see.
Let us celebrate the making
of what it means to be.

He dared to open a door.
He awakened a wonderland.
He brought a world of white
suddenly alive with color.
Brown-sugar child,
when you and your hue
burst onto the scene,
all of us came out to play.
Together,
flapping our wings,
rejoicing in a we-all blanket of wheeee!”

From "A Poem for Peter" by Andrea Davis Pinkney

THE SNOWY DAY AND OTHER STORIES BY EZRA JACK KEATS runs Jan. 11 
Feb. 9 at The Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.  

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