Inspiration for “A Poem for Peter”

Kyle: Your latest book “A Poem for Peter”
is an extraordinary tour de force, and I wondered if you just talked to us about it?
What your inspiration was… and tell us about the book? Andrea: “A Poem for Peter” —
loved writing that book. “A Poem for Peter” is a picture-book biography about none
other than Ezra Jack Keats, who wrote the classic children’s book that so many of
us grew up on: “The Snowy Day.” “The Snowy Day” was published in 1962 and it won the
Caldecott medal, the highest honor one can receive for a picture book, in 1963,
the year I was born. So that book was in the world to greet me. I was born in
Washington, DC (inner-city) and my parents had very limited resources, but they
bought that book. If they could spend their money on their new daughter, that was
how they chose to spend it, and you know I joked that I often slept with “The
Snowy Day.” It was like a pillow, it brought me such comfort. I loved the
book and I grew up on it and so with the 100th anniversary of Ezra Jack Keats’ birth approaching in the year 2016, I thought what a great moment to celebrate
this man. The book does celebrate him. It celebrates not only Ezra Jack Keats
but Peter who is the main character in “The Snowy Day” (that african-american
child in the red snowsuit with the hood that again so many of us grew up on), and
it is an ode to Peter. It’s a love letter, if you will, and that was my goal in
writing it, that I wanted to explore the life and times of Keats, but also the
tremendous influence of Pierre, one of the, well, the first really, child of color in
a mainstream book depicted on the cover, a main character and it was just a joy
and a pleasure to create. Kyle: I particularly love–I love
so many things about it, but I love the fact that I didn’t know
much about the author. I mean, I certainly knew
his name, but his life trajectory, I was not as familiar with, and so to see
the lines that got crossed, you know, that this was a Polish family, that this was a family that was on the run during the Nazi era, you know, and
had struggled themselves with different kind of oppression, but oppression
nonetheless. That’s a wonderful component for me to see the empathy from one culture to another. Well, I’m glad that you talked
about Ezra Jack Keats because I, like many folks, didn’t know
about him. We know the book, we know his body of
work, but the creator of that work. Keats was the son of struggling, as you
mentioned, immigrants coming to the United States experienced discrimination
himself when he tried to get a job after serving in WWII. He would
literally show up and see signs and windows that said “Jews need not apply so
he understood what it was like to be discriminated against and he poured all
of that into the creation of all of his books and especially the snowy day
featuring this african-american character.

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