Ezra Jack Keats Inspires Little Calhouners

When the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp collection commemorating The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, faculty at Lower School 74th decided to initiate a division-wide study of this pioneering author and illustrator. Keats is known for featuring multiracial protagonists and breaking the color barrier in children’s literature, and his books serve as an entry point for young students to explore issues of inclusion and diversity. The universal themes of childhood that weave through his stories not only energized our Little Calhouners’ literary studies, but inspired their own artistic expression!

Keats believed that all children should see themselves in the books they love, and so he purposely created a diverse group of storybook heroes—most with backgrounds and physical appearances very different from his. As Keats once said, “If we could see each other exactly as the other is, this would be a different world.” Just like Keats and other great writers before them, second graders were inspired and challenged to walk in the shoes of others—and develop character profiles that were unlike themselves. Second graders were asked to create their own character portraits and “shutter books” as part of a study on literary character development.

Student created character profile inspired by Ezra Jack Keats. 

Little Calhouners were motivated in their literary pursuits by a visit from Andrea Davis Pinkney, award-winning author of A Poem for Peter, which recounts Keats’s life. Pinkney shared an inside look at her writing process and offered tips for aspiring authors.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, author of A Poem for Peter, visits the students at Little Calhoun. 

Every 74th Street student had a chance to work on an art project that drew from the themes of the stories that were read in class, often in collaboration with other clusters. As the study concluded, Little Calhoun was transformed into a building-wide museum of Keats-inspired art. After reading the book Dreams and observing Keats’s signature illustrative style, kindergartners experimented with their own graphic techniques, using watercolor and collage to depict buildings full of dreaming neighbors.

First graders performed short play adaptations of three of Keats’s books: My Dog Is Lost, Pet Show and Apt. 3. Fellow 74th Street students—as young as three and on up through second grade—gathered to watch the show, and were amazed to see the stories they loved come to life onstage!

1st graders perform an adaptation of My Dog is Lost by Ezra Jack Keats.