Long before multicultural characters and themes were fashionable, Ezra Jack Keats crossed social boundaries by being the first American picture-book maker to give the urban child a central place in children’s literature. In Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Picture-Book Maker
author Brian Alderson gives an account of the emergence and significance of Keats’ books within the context of his life.
Alderson shows how Keats’ early ambitions were all towards “fine art” and were spurred on by his success as a schoolboy painter. But his career was always under threat from the depression, from the distractions of war service, and from all the financial difficulties that are the regular lot of practicing artists. Despite a spell of study in Paris, Keats eventually gravitated into commercial art and then—to his own surprise—discovered that he was a children’s book illustrator.
In describing this career, and in analyzing the great picture books of Keats’ maturity, Brian Alderson has drawn upon recollections of those who knew him and upon the large archive of his works held at the de Grummond Collection of the University of Southern Mississippi. This has allowed an insight not only into Keats’ character, but also into his working life: everything from his obsessive contract negotiations to his struggles in perfecting both his books and the way in which they were presented to the public.
In its mixture of sadness and joy, Keats’ life brought him very close to the children for whom he—as “an ex-kid”—had such affinity. This book is the fourth in a Pelican series featuring America’s greatest children’s illustrators and authors including Jessie Willcox Smith, Johnny Gruelle, and Kate Greenaway.