The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats. Viking (Penguin), 1962.
Dr. V’s take:
Friggin April, man. In the slightly paraphrased words of T.S. Eliot, it’s trifling AF. In my region of the world, April invites back all the birds and flowers only to cruelly blanket them in snow. Go ahead and grow, grass! April promises. It’s safe! You’ll be fiiiine! And then: boom. Frost. April is Lucy, the football is spring, and we are all poor, sad Charlie Brown.
April is cold, in so many ways.
The good thing about it is that we have one last (I hope, please let it be the last) chance to read The Snowy Day, the very best book ever written about winter. Though we often associate winter with dead bleakness, Keats’s collage-style illustrations in The Snowy Day remind us that, in the white light reflecting off of soft new snow, colors can look their brightest. Its prose is gentle and calm, and our hero Peter is cute as a button, wandering around enjoying the simple pleasures of whacking piles of snow out of trees and admiring his own footprints.
Much has been made about Peter’s race since the book’s release more than 50 years ago, and it would be a mistake to think that it doesn’t matter just as much post-Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice to read a book about a young black boy who is free to roam the street and delight in the snow and tell his mother about his adventures, just as he should be. Peter is granted innocence that black children in literature and elsewhere can’t always take for granted, and it’s lovely and soothes the soul.
But I’ve always appreciated the very last line in the book as well: “After breakfast he called to his friend from across the hall, and they went out together into the deep, deep snow” (emphasis mine).
Friends, there are not a lot of books about kids who live in apartments. Those that do, such as the kids in Judy Blume’s Fudge books, tend to live in the type of apartment with a doorman or in a city high-rise. But Peter lives where so, so many kids live: in a regular apartment building, in an ambiguously urban setting, the kind of place where you make friends with the kids across the hall. When you’re raising your kid in an apartment building like this and constantly reading books about suburban kids using their imaginations in their own backyards, or casually referring to talking to their dads “in the garage,” or getting a new dog, and so on, it can seem like the literary world thinks that a childhood can’t possibly be idyllic unless the child’s parents have a mortgage. When your kid and the kid in the unit next door have fun by bouncing their basketballs off the Dumpster in the parking lot, it can be discouraging.
In this, Peter can still mean a lot to a lot of kids, of a whole variety of races, who get to see their joys reflected in a story as they experience them for once.
And the snow as Peter sees it on his 1962 snowy day still has the power to change anybody’s attitude about winter, if only for a few minutes.