New Issue: USPS honours diversity in children’s books by Keats

U.S. writer and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats’ most beloved story, The Snowy Day, was commemorated on four Forever stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) this October.

Produced by the celebrated children’s author, the book was one of the first prominent 20th-century picture books devoted to an African-American child. Each of the four new stamps (available in a 20-stamp booklet) features a different illustration of main character Peter exploring and playing in his neighbourhood while wearing his iconic red snowsuit.

The images include:

  • Peter forming a snowball;
  • Peter sliding down a mountain of snow
  • Peter making a snow angel; and
  • Peter leaving footprints in the snow.

“I am honored to represent the Postal Service as we dedicate four stamps that feature an iconic image that has had a positive impact on children for more than 50 years,” said USPS Government Relations and Public Policy Acting Executive Director Roderick Sallay.

“In 1962, a groundbreaking book hit the library shelves — The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Before this bookchildren of color — African-American children, in particular — saw very little representation of themselves in picture books,” added Sallay.

“And then came Peter. A young boy who awoke to find the world outside his window blanketed in snow, and who couldn’t wait to get outside and play. Through Peter, children of color found a positive representation of themselves, which instilled a sense of pride and self-acceptance. One that said, I both fit and I belong.”

Art director Antonio Alcalá of Alexandria, Va., designed the stamps, which were issued as Forever stamps that are always equal in value to the current first-class mail one-ounce price.

50 YEARS OLD

Since the publication of this treasured tale five decades ago, young readers have enjoyed joining Peter on his winter adventure.

Unlike most popular children’s authors of the time, Keats’ book made a point to feature ethnically and racially diverse characters in his work. Inspired by a series of 1940 Life magazine photographs of a young African-American boy, Keats began writing The Snowy Day. Using paper collage, fabric, stamps and India ink, he crafted the unique look of the story’s wintry urban landscape.

Edited by Annis Duff and published in 1962, The Snowy Day has become a classic. Since its release, it has sold millions of copies.

As Peter starred in six more Keats stories, readers watched him grow older in print. Before the author’s death in 1983, he wrote and illustrated 22 children’s books and provided artwork for dozens more. Countless readers identified with his characters and stories, which brought added diversity to mainstream children’s literature.

KEATS FOUNDATION

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation supports efforts to foster children’s love of reading and creative expression while promoting diversity in children’s literature with the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for new writers and illustrators.

“Ezra Jack Keats understood that every child can experience the wide-open joy of a playtime adventure. That’s what his books have done for me as a reader — they’ve let me discover over and over again the beauty of boundlessness,” said author Andrea Davis Pinkney. “The Snowy Day stamps are a wonderful way to send Keats greetings. I have my envelopes addressed and waiting, ready to carry messages of unbridled hope.”

RELATABLE STORIES

“Ezra wanted all children to be able to see themselves in picture books,” said Executive Director Deborah Pope. “He transformed the landscape of children’s literature with the diversity of his characters, and his work was embraced across ethnic and social boundaries. In 1963 he was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medalfor The Snowy Day, a beloved classic that the Library of Congress named one of 88 books that shaped America. It is an honor to Ezra and to the children of this country that the Postal Service is issuing these beautiful Snowy Day stamps. Keats opened the door to diversity in American children’s literature and helped generations of Americans grow up with greater tolerance and a broader sense of community.”

 

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