One-Minute Book Reviews

February 26, 2010

A Second Look at Ezra Jack Keats’s ‘The Snowy Day’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:37 pm
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A Caldecott medalist often called “the book that broke the color barrier” in children’s publishing

Winter still has enough muscle here in New Jersey that the library was closed for snow yesterday, so I couldn’t put my hands on a trailblazing book about the kind of weather we’re having now, Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day (Puffin, 40 pp., $6.99, paperback, and other editions). But an excellent reference book on children’s literature puts its achievement in context.

“Keats illustrated nearly a dozen books before writing his first, The Snowy Day, which won the 1963 Caldecott Medal,” former children’s librarian Mary Mehlman Burns writes in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators(Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey.

“A celebration of color, texture, design, and childhood wonder, The Snowy Day is significant in that it was one of the first picture books in which a minority child is seen as Everychild. Years before, Keats had come across photos of a young boy, and he recalled that ‘his expressive face, his body attitudes, the way he wore his clothes, totally captivated me.’ The boy was to become Peter, who, in his red snowsuit, discovers the joys of dragging sticks and making tracks in the snow. After its publication, Keats found out that the photos had come from a 1940 Life magazine – he had retained the images for over 20 years.

“With solid and patterned paper as wedges of color, Keats used collage to create endearing characters and energetic cityscapes, not only in The Snowy Day (1962) but also in Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1964).”

A generation of readers – black and white – is grateful to The Snowy Day, sometimes called “the book that broke the color barrier” in picture books from mainstream publishers. The editions include DVD-and-book gift set from Viking that also has Whistle for Willie.

You may also want to read “American Library Association to Little Kids: Women Are Second Best,” a response to the medals gap between male and female Caldecott winners.

This review first appeared in 2008.

You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. She satirizes the American literary culture, such as it is, on her Fake Book News page (@fakebooknews) on Twitter at


© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 29, 2008

Weather in Novels – How It Works, or Jane Austen and the Pathetic Fallacy

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:52 pm
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Last week we had a storm here that – if it lacked biblical proportions – still had the force of a minor religious tract. Have you ever thought about what wonderful conductors of electricity metal fire escapes are? We found out when one got struck by lighting, accompanied by a thunderous boom, a block from where I live.

Nobody got hurt, but as I counted the arriving fire trucks, I thought about storms in fiction. How do novelists use the weather – the good, bad and the ugly? David Lodge comments in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of essays on devices such as the use of lists, names, and the telephone in fiction:

“We all know that weather affects our moods. The novelist is in the happy position of being able to invent whatever weather is appropriate to the mood he or she wants to evoke.

“Weather is therefore frequently a trigger for the effect John Ruskin called the pathetic fallacy, the projection of human emotions onto phenomena in the natural world. ‘All violent feelings … produce in us a falseness of our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the pathetic fallacy,’ he wrote. As the name implies, Ruskin thought it was a bad thing, a symptom of the decadence of modern (as compared to classical) art and literature, and it is indeed often the occasion of overblown, self-indulgent writing. But used with intelligence and discretion it is a rhetorical device capable of moving and powerful effects, without which fiction would be much the poorer.

“Jane Austen retained an Augustan suspicion of the Romantic imagination, and satirized it in the characterization of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. ‘It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves,’ her sister Elinor comments drily after Marianne’s autumn rhapsody, ‘How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind. What feelings they, the season, the air altogether inspired!’”

Weather in Austen’s novels, Lodge goes on to say, usually has an important practical bearing on her characters’ lives. But in her books and others’, it can serve other purposes, some related to the pathetic fallacy and some not, such as serving as “a metaphorical index” of characters’ inner lives or a portent of impending plot shifts.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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