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Becoming Ezra Jack Keats

The first in-depth biography of one of the most influential authors of children's literature


Becoming Ezra Jack Keats offers the first complete biography of acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916–1983) intended for adult readers. Drawing extensively from his unpublished autobiography and letters, Becoming Ezra Jack Keats covers the breadth of Keats’s life, taking readers through his early years as the child of immigrant parents, his introduction to illustration and writing, and the full arc of his remarkable career.

Beyond a standard biography, this volume presents a time capsule of the political, social, and economic issues evolving during the span of Keats’s lifetime. It also addresses his trailblazing commitment to representation and diversity, most notably in his work The Snowy Day, which won the Caldecott Medal as the first full-color picture book to feature a Black child as the protagonist. Keats far surpassed his father’s prediction that he would be a starving artist. Instead, as shown in Becoming Ezra Jack Keats, he is now regarded as one of the most influential figures in children’s literature, having published twenty-two books translated into sixteen languages, all featuring the diversity he saw in the children outside the window of his Brooklyn studio.


"Virginia McGee Butler has created a valuable illumination of Ezra Jack Keats's life, particularly his childhood and young adulthood. The portrait of the artist is vivid, as is the re-creation of the time and place in which Keats lived and created."

- Paul V. Allen, author of I Can Read It All by Myself: The Beginner Books Story

"This loving portrait of Keats tells the story of his life as seen through his own eyes."

- Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

"You will laugh. You will cry. You will fall in love with warm-hearted Ezra. Engaging a cinematic approach, Becoming Ezra Jack Keats reveals how life and art intertwine. With carefully documented snappy dialogue, you’re there on the streets of New York hanging out with Keats and his buddies. Lurking behind descriptions of his escapades and life experience are Keats’s books, the signature illustrations, the burgeoning storyteller that even Keats could not have imagined he would become. Virginia McGee Butler, a longtime educator, masterfully captures scenes embracing the places Keats’s life and books collide, draws the reader in, and touches the heart. Armed with new insights, you will no doubt want to reread the beloved picture books of Ezra Jack Keats."

- Pat Austin, professor emeritus of children’s literature at the University of New Orleans

"An intimate look into a life that inspired a lifetime of beloved picture books."

- Chris Carter, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation board member

"The world missed out on something wonderful when Keats failed to complete his autobiography before he died in 1983 at the age of 67. What was lost has, in cheering degree, been found with this lively and sincere account of his life."

- Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Wall Street Journal

"Butler provides the first complete bii1ography of Ezra Jade Keats (1916-83), the author of the
iconic and groundbreaking The Snowy Day, which won the 1963 Caldecott MedaI. Butler had access
to the extensive collection of Keats's personal and professional papers at the de Grummond
Children's Literature Collection and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, assuring an in-depth
biographical portrait of Keats. The significance of the biography lies in showing readers how his childhood as the sickly youngest son in a poor immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York, and his exposure to the diverse ethnic,,
religious, and racial inhabitants that surrounded him influenced his later focus on diverse
characters in urban setting1s in his popular books for young children."

- D. V. Dominguez, CHOICE

"This is a well-written, factual, and intriguing biography that reads like a novel—a rare feat."

- Margaret Nunes, School Library Journal