I was eight years old the first time I saw snow. It was in Tel Aviv, where I grew up and where it never snows. But one day, in February 1950, it did. A layer of white blanketed the city. Everyone came outside to witness the extraordinary event. My friends and I built snowmen in the streets. The grown-ups did, too. And all within view of the Mediterranean Sea. The sight of white snow on white sand—it was so rare and marvelous! Since immigrating to the United States, I have witnessed many other snowfalls, but I will never forget the first one.
In the 1960s, Ezra Jack Keats, the son of immigrants to these shores, wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, a book celebrating the childhood wonder of snow. His setting was New York City. Snow is not a rare event there. But the book was a rare event, because Keats made the groundbreaking choice of an African American as its main character—the first time a black child was the focus of a popular children’s picture book. Keats did not see himself as a pioneer of civil rights. But it was important to him to depict his beloved neighborhood as it was, and to show that the joys of childhood are universal.
This spring the Skirball presents a charming exhibition that pays tribute to the art and life of Ezra Jack Keats, showing how he helped children’s literature to open its eyes and open its arms. It is an exhibition—and a vision—that the Skirball embraces.