Today is the last day of Children’s Book Week, which is, according to the website, “…the annual celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading.”
I’ve made no secret of the fact that Mike and I really want to cultivate a lifetime love of reading in our daughter. She’s almost six months old; though she doesn’t necessarily understand the words, she benefits from cuddling close to us, feeling the pages, and learning to associate books with comfort and happiness. She’s a sponge and books are just one of the things we want her to soak up.
A few weeks ago I was browsing the clearance shelf at a local bookstore and found a hardback 50th anniversary edition of Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day. I remembered that Mike had told me about a tradition in his family where his mom and dad would bring out a special basket of all their Christmas books each December and they’d choose one every evening to read. I could tell it was a really special memory for him and I was charmed by it. When I saw The Snowy Day I knew it would make a fantastic addition to our burgeoning Christmas book basket.
It’s not a story about Christmas per se, but a winter tale of a young boy’s experience of playing in the snow. It’s all the more wonderful because it was written during the Civil Rights Movement and Peter, the little boy and main character in the story, is African-American. The Snowy Day was the first full-colored modern storybook to center around an African-American character. What’s more, it takes place in the city in an age where the overwhelming majority of children’s books depicted idyllic farms and grassy meadows.
More than that, however, is the fact that the book is just plain wonderful to read. The illustrations, also by Ezra Jack Keats, are bright and beautiful. I didn’t know it was such a groundbreaking book when I bought it, I simply fell in love with Peter and his snowy day.
I was perusing the list of nationwide Children’s Book Week events earlier this week and was thrilled to see that the Skirball Cultural Center, right up the 405 freeway from our home in West Los Angeles, was showing an exhibit called The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. Thrilled. Snow is a long shot in Los Angeles (though apparently it does happen every once in a blue moon), so we decided to spend our sunny Sunday afternoon celebrating this book with our daughter. We’d never been to the Skirball, but had always wanted to go. This was perfect.
This exhibition was simply stunning. We weren’t allowed to photograph the original illustrations featured, but I urge you to go see them for yourself if you’re in the L.A. area. The exhibit runs through early September.
I think this book will be the highlight of Margot’s Christmas book basket.