It’s the birthday of children’s author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (books by this author), born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn (1916). The son of impoverished Jewish immigrants from Warsaw, he wanted to be an artist, and that worried his family — but he couldn’t afford art school, so he got a job painting murals for the Works Progress Administration, and designed Army camouflage during World War II.
Keats had no intention of illustrating children’s books, much less writing them. He began to publish illustrations in magazines like Playboy and Reader’s Digest. But one children’s author saw his work and asked him to illustrate her book. The first book he wrote and illustrated on his own was The Snowy Day (1962), done all in collage, about a young black boy named Peter playing in his neighborhood after a new snowfall. It was one of the first children’s books to feature a black character. He went on to illustrate more than 80 children’s books, and to write and illustrate more than 20 books.
He said: “I love city life. All the beauty that other people see in country life, I find taking walks and seeing the multitudes of people.”